BURNING BUSH: Citing the president's "antipathy to using sound science," California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced today the state is suing the Bush administration in an attempt to block its recent rollback of endangered species protections. (Source: The Associated Press)

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: There are now 71 percent fewer wild African elephants than in 1970 — a loss of about 26,000 each year — and central Africa's prolific poachers certainly deserve much of the blame. That's the rationale behind eBay's upcoming ban of ivory sales, a move pushed for and applauded by many conservationists. But, as Slate points out today, a carefully controlled ivory trade might actually save elephants from an even greater threat: the steady, crushing march of human growth. Similar to the argument that using more paper saves trees, it goes like this: Sustainable ivory harvesting from elephants that died naturally or from herd culling uses market forces to protect the pachyderms, warding off intolerant villagers and land-hungry developers. It's a pessimistic philosophy, assuming it's too late for wild trees and elephants to survive without human chaperones, but it makes sense — as long as the trees and ivory are really harvested sustainably. But even then, of course, there are still the poachers with automatic weapons to worry about. (Sources: The Philadelphia Inquirer, National Geographic, CNET News, Slate, Omnipress)

FUEL'S GOLD: Is oil only cheap because we're in a recession? No, says The Baltimore Sun's Jay Hancock; it's cheap because the last 20 years' giddy demand wasn't sustainable. High gas prices this summer scared us straight, Hancock opines, starting a chain reaction of economic phenomena: We buy less because it costs more, we look for alternatives because we're buying less, and scientists create alternatives because there's a market for them. Even though gas is cheap now — falling now for 25 straight weeks, despite an "all-out war" in the Middle East — it'll take a lot to make us forget the sting, and anxiety, wrought by $4 gallons. (Sources: The Baltimore Sun, The Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse)

CANE AND ABLE: Brazil's ethanol sales topped its gasoline sales this year for the first time, a major milestone for the world's No. 2 producer of the biofuel. The United States remains the top global ethanol source thanks to a subsidized bounty of corn, while Brazil uses its own staple crop, sugarcane. For environmentalists who fear a maize overload under a president and USDA secretary who hail from the Corn Belt, diversifying into an even sweeter fuel source is a mouth-watering prospect. And following an agreement Monday in sugar-rich Hawaii, the first U.S. sugar-ethanol plant could begin materializing in 2009. (Sources: AFP, The San Francisco ChronicleEnergy Tribune, APThe Honolulu Advertiser)

PALM BREEDERS: Growing demand for palm oil, which is popular in commercial snack foods as a trans-fat-free shortening substitute, is wreaking havoc on tropical rainforests, mainly in Southeast Asia. Swaths of jungle are being torn up and replaced with monocultures of oil-palm plantations, which supply both the snack-food and cosmetics industries. But, as with paper and ivory, boycotting palm oil could actually make the situation worse — desperate plantation owners, like snake-bit Vegas gamblers, may just dig in their heels further, clear-cutting yet more forest for intensive timber harvesting. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the onus is on equatorial governments. (Sources: CS Monitor, Slate, Omnipress

Russell McLendon

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

Last Call: 12/30
The oil bubble bursts as Brazil and Hawaii say "yes we cane" to ethanol. Also: saving elephants by buying ivory, saving trees by using paper, and saving endange