Cigarette butts contribute to about 30 percent of all litter nationwide and 28 percent of litter that washes up onto beaches worldwide. This poses environmental concerns, as cigarette filters are not biodegradable and contain harmful chemicals and toxins like nicotine, benzene, and cadmium that leach into waterways. There are also economic factors to consider: San Francisco alone spends up to $11 million dollars annually to clean up cigarette litter. Manufacturers are working on creating a biodegradable cigarette, but until then, advocacy groups such as Keep America Beautiful are emphasizing the need for more ashtrays and receptacles in public areas.
Source: New York Times
May saw the lowest death toll of Iraqi civilians since the 2003 US invasion, with 134 deaths. A year before, in May 2008, 505 Iraqi civilians died due to war-related violence. In addition, 12 US troops were killed during the month, bringing the confirmed US death toll in the Iraqi conflict to 4,311.
Sources: Reuters, www.icasualties.org
The Legacy Loans Program (LLP), which was intended to help banks clear their balance sheets by selling off bad mortgages and loans, will be postponed. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) admitted that it could not get enough banks interested in the program, whose aim was to sell off $1 billion in troubled home mortgages. Since there is no market value for the mortgages that banks are holding onto, there could be more than $1 trillion in total losses not currently on bank balance sheets, some analysts estimate. This raises concerns about the real state of the banking system. Despite uninterested banks, the FDIC plans to continue development of the LLP as an option for the future.
Sources: New York Times, www.fdic.gov
The first ever penal Tour de France ended on June 19. It included 194 inmates and 124 prison guards and sports instructors pedaling the 1,500 miles from Lille to Paris. Prison officials hoped the journey would foster values such as effort and teamwork to help the prisoners reintegrate into society. The group rode in a pack and stayed at jails in 17 different towns along the way.
Source: BBC News
The Global Peace Index has ranked New Zealand—where sheep outnumber humans four to one—the most peaceful nation on Earth. Twenty-three criteria factor into the rankings of the 144 countries on the list, including political stability, risk of terrorism, murder rate, likelihood of violent demonstrations, respect for human rights, internal conflicts, arms imports, and involvement in foreign wars. The Institute for Economics and Peace in Australia compiles the report, and noted that 2008 was a rough year for world peacefulness, but a few nations saw a rise in their rankings, including New Zealand and the US.
Source: The Telegraph (UK)
Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 2.8 percent last year compared to 2007, government officials reported in June. Since the government began regular reporting of greenhouse gases, 2008 marks the largest annual drop. Officials attribute the decline to reduced energy consumption. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which has yet to be voted on by the House or Senate, includes provisions to cut greenhouse emissions by 83 percent by 2050.
Source: USA Today
Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in church in Wichita, Kansas, on May 31 by known antiabortion activist Scott Roeder. Dr. Tiller had long been a controversial figure for the services he provided—including late-term abortions—to women and girls at his Women’s Health Care Services clinic. In recent years, he had received much attention from Bill O’Reilly on the “The O’Reilly Factor.” This year, while covering the trial of Dr. Tiller—who had been charged with 19 misdemeanors relating to his practice but was later acquitted—O’Reilly mentioned him during at least eight episodes, referring to him as “Tiller, the baby killer.”
Sources: TVNewser, Los Angeles Times, www.politifact.com
The 71-story Pearl River Tower, being built in Gaungzhou in the Guangdong province of China, is considered to be the most energy-efficient skyscraper ever built. Due to be completed in October 2010, it will use wind turbines, solar panels, sunshields, smart lighting, water-cooled ceilings, state-of-the-art insulation, and other “green” features to reduce energy consumption by over half of what standard buildings of comparable size consume. While the energy-efficient additions add about $13 million to initial construction costs, experts predict that within five years it can be earned back through lowered electricity bills and maintenance costs. China is building at a rapid rate, with one estimate predicting the construction of up to 50,000 new skyscrapers by 2025. While many herald the Pearl River Tower as a model of an energy-efficient future, others claim that the pollution is just being shifted to the producers of the resources, such as the steel, concrete, and solar panel manufacturers.
Source: The Guardian (UK)
On May 29, a new chemical weapons disposal facility was opened in the remote town of Shchuchye, Russia, where 5,950 tons of nerve agents are stored. The facility—paid for in part with $1 billion donated by the US, and contributions from the European Union and other countries—is a step toward the elimination of chemical weapons stockpiles agreed upon by Washington and Moscow under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. As of May, the US had destroyed 60 percent of its chemical weapons, while Russia had destroyed 30 percent.
Sources: Global Security Newswire, New York Times