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Earth Talk
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 13:54

Dear EarthTalk: How does growing human population, and its resultant landscape


"The role of migratory birds in spreading bird flu is not well
understood, but waterfowl are a “natural reservoir” of
mostly harmless H5 and H7 influenza A viruses. Recent
research suggests that these viruses may be mutating into
more pathogenic (disease producing) forms that can “jump
the species barrier” and infect people and other animals."
Image courtesy of "Tom Brakefield, Getty Images."

changes, affect the flight paths of migratory birds that might carry diseases? -- Ronnie Washines, Toppenish, WA

As human population numbers grow, oceans of people seem to spread out into every conceivable environment—even the forests and estuaries used for eons by migratory birds as nutrient-rich stopovers on their longer annual journeys between feeding areas and birthing grounds.

Of course, more human development means fewer habitats suitable for such birds of passage (and other wildlife) as we “pave paradise…” and put up parking lots. But tired and hungry birds may not have the wherewithal or instinctual coding to seek out alternative resting areas, so they make do with habitat crowded and compromised by human incursion. Close proximity to avian life hasn’t presented too big of a problem for people in the past, but new concerns about the spread of bird flu (the H5N1 virus) via infected migratory birds (which presumably infect local populations of domestic birds) does have some scientists worried that persistent human expansion could indirectly lead to a disease pandemic of global proportions.

Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 11 January 2010 11:36

Dear EarthTalk: Are there any conservation efforts focused on animal species

Thanks to rising sea levels, land forms
that sustain wildlife may no longer be
above water or otherwise suitable for
some species who may be hard pressed
to find places to go. Pictured: a
Galapagos penguin, one of thousands of
endemic island species facing likely
extinction unless we can get a handle on
greenhouse gas emissions in short order.
Credit this image to "Wikipedia."

endemic to islands likely to be submerged by rising sea levels?     -- H. Wyeth, Anahola, HI

Islands are indeed likely to be the areas hardest hit by our warming climate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of leading climate scientists from around the world convened by the United Nations to assess the ongoing risk of global warming, predicts a global average sea level rise of between 3.5 and 34.6 inches over the next century. And the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of 42 small island and low-lying coastal countries that have banded together to lobby United Nations policymakers, reports that warming-induced sea level rises could threaten the very existence of some island nations including the Maldives, Kiribati and parts of the Bahamas.

Those low-lying nations that do manage to hang onto some land will contend with not only continuously rising seas and stronger more frequent storms, but also declines in the productivity of their agriculture and fisheries. Salt water intrusion will limit the amount of freshwater available for crops and in some cases undermine the integrity of the soil itself. And as coral reefs die off, the abundant marine life that once congregated around them will disappear.

Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Tuesday, 05 January 2010 12:10

Dear EarthTalk: Years ago I read that children should be kept at least two feet


Contrary to popular myth, TV screens do not
broadcast harmful emissions to kids who sit
very close, though they can cause eye strain
and fatigue easily remedied by a good night's
sleep. However, kids who watch more than
four hours of TV daily are more susceptible to
obesity, and a 2007 Seattle Children’s Research
Institute study showed that for every hour per
day infants spent watching DVDs and videos
they learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary
words than babies who never watched the videos.
The key, experts say, is moderation, and parents
should teach their kids that the TV is “for
occasional entertainment, not for constant
escapism.”  I
mage  courtesy of "Getty Images."

from the television because of harmful electronic emissions. Is this still relevant? Is there a difference regarding this between older and new flat-screen models?   -- Horst E. Mehring, Oconomowoc, WI


Luckily for many of us and our kids, sitting “too” close to the TV isn’t known to cause any human health issues. This myth prevails because back in the 1960s General Electric sold some new-fangled color TV sets that emitted excessive amounts of radiation—as much as 100,000 times more than federal health officials considered safe. GE quickly recalled and repaired the faulty TVs, but the stigma lingers to this day.

But even though electronic emissions aren’t an issue with TVs made any time after 1968 (including today’s LCD and plasma flat screens), what about causing harm to one’s vision? Dr. Lee Duffner of the American Academy of Ophthalmology isn’t concerned, maintaining that watching television screens—close-up or otherwise—“won’t cause any physical damage to your eyes.” He adds, however, that a lot of TV watching can surely cause eye strain and fatigue, particularly for those sitting very close and/or watching from odd angles. But there is an easy cure for eye strain and fatigue: turning off the TV and getting some rest. With a good night’s sleep, tired eyes should quickly return to normal.

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