Here are some noteworthy science and environmental links folks are Digging today:
• Guardian: "Bring back dark nights"
When the specter of global warming isn't enough motivation to cut back on energy use, there are plenty of climate-saving plans that also have other benefits. Switching to electric cars, for example, would help wean us off foreign oil as well as reign in tailpipe emissions. In this column, the Guardian's Harry Phibbs offers another interesting double whammy: cutting back on cities' street lighting, which would reduce both energy use and light pollution, letting stargazers gaze at stars again. Although street lights were erected in the name of safety, Phibbs suggests "over-lighting" may actually distract some drivers. And to maintain sidewalk safety, Phibbs proposes using the money saved on electricity costs to hire more police officers.
Speaking of incentives to fight climate change, the slowly encroaching Indian Ocean seems to have done the trick for the Maldives, a string of nearly 1,200 coral atolls that are collectively the world's lowest-lying country. Eighty percent of the islands are less than one meter above sea level, and none rise past about six feet. That motivated the country's president, Mohamed Nasheed, to announce plans last year for a fund to buy higher land elsewhere for his 386,000 constituents. And on Sunday, Nasheed wrote a column in England's Observer newspaper urging other countries to help him cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, which are swelling the world's seas. Nasheed will lead by example, he says — he plans to make the Maldives the world's first carbon-neutral country within a decade, using a combination of wind power, solar panels and a coconut-fired power plant.
A group of Catalonian teenagers have taken NASA down a notch — a small notch, but a notch nonetheless — by snapping stunning photos from the stratosphere using a cheap camera attached a helium balloon. While NASA projects routinely soar past their multimillion-dollar budgets, these students explored the heavens with a camera that cost about $79. Following months of preparation and "a lot of tests," their DIY UFO reached 100,000 feet before the balloon began deflating and sunk back to Earth.
Last August, a group of biologists using Google Earth discovered that herds of cattle and deer around the world instinctively stand in a north-south direction, suggesting the animals have a sixth sense for the Earth's magnetic field. Not everyone was convinced, but the same scientists have now published more research that seems to bolster their theory: When herds stand in the mild electromagnetic fields emitted by power lines, they point in different directions. As Wired mentions, maybe the ability to mess with cows' magnetic senses could provide new cow-pasture entertainment for rural pranksters flustered by the physical impossibility of cow-tipping.
• PaulaHayes.com [photo]: "Terrariums"
Paula Hayes is a New York artist who's rethinking the mossy, condensating terrariums of yesteryear as sleek, curvy works of biomorphic art. She's been around for a while — the NY Times and Treehugger wrote about her work in 2004, and the LA Times profiled her in January — but Digger Muhammad Saleem Dugg up this image yesterday, and it's been well-received. The image has been popular, anyway; it's hard to imagine that $10,000 grass in a glass sells well during a recession.