FIRST FARMER: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama galvanized the country's growing interest in local, organically raised food this year, not only planting an 1,100-square-foot vegetable garden on the White House's South Lawn, but also helping set up a farmers market down the street to sell food from D.C.-area gardens. Following a fruitful springtime harvest at the garden — yielding more than 70 pounds of lettuce and 12 pounds of peas — Obama and her fifth-grade farmhands are now knee-deep in their fall harvest, uprooting wheelbarrow loads of sweet potatoes, carrots, fennel, lettuce and other crops in a national display of DIY food production. In addition to serving as a learning tool for local schoolchildren and as a source of food for the local homeless, Obama's green thumb is a reminder to home gardeners around the country how much green they can save by growing their own food — her garden has already produced more than 960 pounds of food, she pointed out Thursday, but cost less than $200 to plant. (Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press)
EASTERLY WINDS: A group of Chinese and American companies announced plans Thursday to create a 600-megawatt wind farm on 36,000 acres of West Texas prairie, marking the first time Chinese-built wind turbines will be exported to generate power in the United States. It could also be a sign of things to come, as China's manufacturing muscle turns more toward renewable energy and U.S. utilities look for cheap ways to cut their carbon emissions. The $1.5 billion wind farm will be financed mainly by Chinese banks, although grants and loan guarantees from the U.S. government made the deal possible, one company official tells the NY Times. The project is expected to create 300 temporary jobs and 30 permanent ones, while generating enough electricity with its 240 turbines to power up to 180,000 homes each year. Construction is set to begin in March 2010. (Sources: NY Times, Houston Chronicle)
THE GREAT GREEN NORTH: Canada is engineering a major push to preserve its vast northern wilderness — as well as help absorb more of the world's carbon dioxide from the air — by protecting some 250 million acres of its boreal forests from logging, mining and oil drilling, the Guardian reports. The forest's enormity makes it a powerful weapon against climate change, capable of soaking up 22 percent of all carbon stored on the Earth's surface, and the conservation effort marks a major environmental move for Canada. The United States' northern neighbor already faces a constant stream of criticism for exploiting its carbon-heavy oil sands, which are energy-intensive to extract yet provide U.S. consumers with ample foreign oil from a friendly source. But Canada's overall 1.3 billion acres of boreal forest can store about 27 years' worth of current greenhouse gas emissions, and even just the newly protected parts — roughly the size of California — could go a long way in not only offsetting some of the oil sands controversy, but setting a precedent for making large forests economically valuable as carbon sinks. (Source: Guardian)
PRIMATE CHANGE: South America's highly endangered monkey species are severely threatened by climate change, according to a new study by biologists from Penn State University. By looking at past climate fluctuations caused by El Niño and La Niña, the researchers found that four major monkey species — muriqui, woolly monkeys, spider monkeys (right) and howler monkeys — all saw significant drops in population size when their climate changed, even though they're all separated by large distances. There are several possible reasons, although the researchers suggest that a boom-and-bust cycle of overproductive and underproductive fruit trees leads to famines that eventually devastate the health of monkey populations throughout an ecosystem. (Source: ScienceDaily)
HYBRID BEARS: Officials at Germany's Osnabruck Zoo have conducted the first-ever study of a polar bear/grizzly bear hybrid, a rare combination that's only known to have 17 representatives worldwide. The study turned up some interesting tidbits about grolar bears (or is it pizzlies?), such as the way their fur is partially hollow, a sort of mix between polar bears' all-hollow hairs and the filled-in follicles of grizzlies and other brown bears. Raised in captivity away from either parent, the hybrid for some reason seems to gravitate toward polar bear behaviors — it stomps on toys the way polar bears stomp on snow to hunt, for example — and also looks rather polarish, including its distinctive long snout. The two species diverged some 300,000 years ago, and while their ranges rarely overlap in the wild, they sometimes stumble into chance encounters. The researchers hope to conduct further studies to determine whether hybrid bears can reproduce; if they can, it could offer at least a small ray of hope for polar bears carrying on their genetic legacy as climate change melts their traditional habitat. (Source: BBC News)
FLU FIGHTERS: Bummed by the shortage of H1N1 flu vaccine? A team of Alabama scientists may have found the next best thing: antioxidants. The disease- and age-fighting chemicals, found in plant-based foods, seem to stop the flu virus (right) from wreaking havoc in a person's lungs. The flu normally damages cells along the inner surfaces of the lungs, using its "M2 protein," but the researchers discovered that injecting a known antioxidant into human lung cells along with influenza prevented the virus from carrying out its trademark destruction. "Although vaccines will remain the first line of intervention against the flu for a long time to come, this study opens the door for entirely new treatments geared toward stopping the virus after you're sick," says the editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal, where the study was published, "and as Thanksgiving approaches, this discovery is another reason to drink red wine to your health." For more examples of edible H1N1 treatments, see MNN's list of 10 flu-fighting foods. (Source: e! Science News)
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Photo (White House harvest): Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Photo (Canadian boreal forest): U.S. Geological Survey
Photo (spider monkey): ZUMA Press
Photo (H1N1 virus): National Institutes of Health
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