smokestackEnforcement of California's landmark cap-and-trade program has been delayed until 2013 due to continuous litigation by — ironically — local environmental justice groups. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the carbon-trading program argue that the legislation won't be effective and would allow industrial plants to avoid installing the strictest pollution controls. "Cap-and-trade is the wrong way to achieve greenhouse gas reductions," said Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment. "It can easily be subject to fraud." The lawsuit gained momentum in March after a San Francisco judge ruled that the air board had not sufficiently analyzed alternatives to the trading program, as required under California's Environmental Quality Act. Ricardo Bayon, a San Francisco-based carbon-market expert, still believes the legislation can do a lot of good. "This is still a green light on cap-and-trade. The program still begins in 2012, but regulated entities would not need to prove compliance until 2013," he said. "It is like giving students more days to turn in their homework for the year." The cap-and-trade program was the crux of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It accounts for a fifth of the planned cuts under the state's 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. Under the program, 600 industrial facilities, including cement manufacturers, electrical plants and oil refineries, would be required to cap their emissions starting in 2012. Once enacted, California's program would be North America's biggest carbon market, with about $10 billion in carbon allowances expected to be traded by 2016. "This modest delay in implementation is prudent. The one-year period will allow us to road test market mechanisms to see how they work while ensuring that the greenhouse gas pollution reductions required by the program remain intact. By getting this right, California can serve as a model for other states and countries," said state Sen. Fran Pavley.

(Source: Los Angeles Times)


quasarScientists in search of the earliest (and most distant) objects to form in the universe after the Big Bang have discovered the brightest object ever found — a monster-sized, 13 billion-year-old quasar. Its age also makes it the earliest quasar ever found; it would have formed just 770 million years after the Big Bang, an infant by cosmic standards. The quasar was powered by a supermassive black hole estimated at a whopping 2 billion times more massive than the sun, a measurement that surprised scientists. How it grew so bulky so early in the universe's history is a complete mystery, since the growth of supermassive black holes was always thought to be slow. In fact, the quasar is so large and so bright that it may end up re-writing current theories about the growth of black holes. Researchers are constantly trying to outdo one another in their quest to see the universe as an infant. As they peer deeper into space, they are also peering further back in time. Quasars make good targets for such research because they are so luminous. "It's like sifting for gold. You're looking for something shiny," said lead researcher Daniel Mortlock, an astrophysicist at Imperial College in London. Though this quasar easily beats the previous record holder for a quasar by about 100 million years in age, it is not the most distant object ever discovered. A gamma-ray burst at redshift 8.2 and a galaxy at redshift 8.6 are both older. Even so, this quasar is hundreds of times brighter than these. "The existence of this quasar will be giving some theorists sleepless nights," said Chris Willott of the Canadian Astronomy Data Center. It was discovered using the Infrared Telescope perched near the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

(Sources: Associated Press, Science Daily, Huffington Post)


water boatmanResearchers studying the sounds made by a tiny bug called a water boatman have discovered that it is capable of making the loudest noise relative to body size in the animal kingdom ... with its penis. The bug apparently makes the record noise by rubbing its penis against its abdomen, kind of like a violin, in a process known as "stridulation." The sound was recorded at up to 99.2 decibels, the equivalent of listening to a loud orchestra play while sitting in the front row. Fittingly, the bug's penis song is a courtship display — females are likely impressed by males that produce the largest noise (you know what they say about bugs with large sounds...). It's certainly an impressive sound for an insect that measures just 2 millimeters. Though not every male water boatman was capable of producing the record noise level, on average the bugs' songs reached 78.9 decibels, which is still comparable to a passing freight train. "We were very surprised. We first thought that the sound was coming from larger aquatic species," said engineering expert Dr. James Windmill from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. "When we identified without any doubt the sound source, we spent a lot of time making absolutely sure that our recordings of the sounds were calibrated correctly." Windmill explained that the reason the insects don't deafen us is due to the fact that 99 percent of the sound is lost when transferred from water to air. Despite this loss, though, the sound is still audible to the human ear. "The song is so loud that a person walking along the bank can actually hear these tiny creatures singing from the bottom of the river," he said.

(Source: BBC)


lungscreenA new study has confirmed that using low-dose CT scans to screen high-risk patients for lung cancer on a regular basis could reduce deaths by as much as 20 percent. Despite the encouraging news, though, these landmark results are already setting off a fierce debate about whether issuing the test is worth the cost to America's overburdened healthcare system. The study, conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, studied more than 53,000 people between the ages of 55 and 74 deemed at high risk of developing lung cancer. The study also noted that radiologists using more advanced CT equipment than was available for the study could lead to an even larger reduction in lung cancer deaths. "With this large a study that was so carefully done, it becomes the gold standard and it should become practice," said Dr. Stan Gerson, director of the Seidman Cancer Center at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Gerson is one of many cancer experts to have demanded that these screenings be enacted as routine practice due to the study's alarming results. Lung cancer is by far the leading cancer killer in the United States, with more than 157,000 deaths annually. Only about 15 percent of lung cancer patients live 5 years or more despite the fact that it is treatable if caught early. Even so, Gerson and other doctors face an uphill battle to convince government programs and health insurers to pay for the routine testing. There is little consensus among healthcare providers over whether the life-saving CT screening could ultimately save healthcare costs down the road. "When you do something that makes people live longer you potentially add more healthcare costs because the people live a long time," said Dr. Bruce Johnson of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The cost and value of routine screening for other cancers like prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer have also been hotly debated — but screening for all three of those cancers has been deemed worthy of coverage by Medicare and health insurers. It's difficult to imagine that low-dose CT scans for lung cancer won't follow suit, but it may not happen right away. Until then, Johnson said that "by far the most effective cost benefit is doing everything we can to get people to not start smoking and getting people who are smoking to quit."

(Sources: Reuters, eScienceNews)

— Today's Daily Briefing was reported by Bryan Nelson. Russell McLendon is out on assignment.

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Photo (power plant): Wiki Commons/Arnold Paul

Photo (quasar): NASA

Photo (water boatman): Paul Albertella/Flickr

Photo (lung scan): Wiki Commons/GNU

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Daily Briefing: Thurs. 6/30/2011
California puts cap-and-trade on hold, scientists discover brightest object ever found, and more.