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While You Were Sleeping 

click to enlarge The Aral Sea, bordering Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, in 1989 (left) and 2008 (right).
  • The Aral Sea, bordering Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, in 1989 (left) and 2008 (right).


The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake, has been reduced to a tenth of its former size. In mid-July, space images from the European Space Agency showed the lake in various stages of shrinkage over the last three years. A result of the Soviet Union diverting its rivers in the 1960s, the Aral Sea now has about 15,000 acres of unusable salty and toxic-laden lake bed. Sandstorms throw this into the air, causing increased rates of lung disease and cancer in the region. While most of the sea is expected to disappear by 2020, the northern part will be preserved by a dam funded by the World Bank.
Source: www.wired.com

Months of volatile markets have caused many to wonder if speculative buying, instead of supply and demand, is affecting crude oil prices. Speculators create a demand by buying oil at a certain price in the expectation of rising prices. This drives the price per barrel up regardless of consumer demand. According to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, 70 percent of the market is now speculators, with most of the trading being done by large investors, such as companies and college endowments. Regulation loopholes—such as foreign market trading—create concerns that there is no accountability for traders’ effect on the market. Proponents of legislation hope that by regulating essential commodities markets, such as oil, consumer prices will stabilize.
Sources: New York Times, National Public Radio

In the past, developers used housing divisions built around golf courses as a selling point. A new trend is to build developments adjacent to working, and sometimes organic, farms. Parcels of land may be only a few acres each, but access to the farm of many acres—whether for scenic value or produce—is an incentive for many homebuyers. Developers of one project in South Burlington, Vermont, are hoping to sell homes from $200,000 to $700,000 each. Communities following this model are sprouting up in suburbs across the nation.
Source: New York Times

Global banking firm Goldman Sachs reported in July the largest earnings quarter in its 140-year history: $3.44 billion. The profit comes after a $12.9 billion dollar bailout from the government last September, of which they have recently paid back $10 billion. Goldman Sach’s new top lobbyist is Michael Paese, former top staffer for Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), Chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, under which the bailouts occurred, had previously worked as a chief executive at the firm. Former Goldman lobbyist Mark Patterson is now chief of staff at the Treasury Department, and former Goldman Chairman Steve Friedman is now the chairman of the New York Federal Reserve.
Sources: Washington Examiner, New York Times, Reuters

About 16,000 candidates are waiting for liver transplants in the US. Earlier this year, Steve Jobs, CEO and cofounder of Apple, received a coveted liver transplant, leaving many to wonder whether celebrities receive preferential treatment regarding organ donations. Jobs—who had been diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004—received the transplant in Tennessee, where 227 people were on the waiting list for a liver, instead of his home state of California, where there were 3,479 candidates. It is possible to register on multiple waiting lists (at the site’s discretion), but the patient must first go to the hospital, be evaluated by physicians there, and be able to return to the donation facility within hours if an organ becomes available. With this system, those with economic resources can register at multiple sites throughout the country. Those awaiting transplants are ranked through a combination of factors, with the most ill going to the top of the list regardless of how long others have waited, which could potentially be years. Other celebrities who have received controversial liver transplants include musicians David Crosby and Phil Lesh, and athlete Mickey Mantle.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network

Increased attention is being paid to obesity on a global level, as the US quickly loses rank as the fattest nation in the world. According to the authors of the new book Globesity (2009, Earthscan Publications), Cyprus, Finland, Germany, and Slovakia, among others, have a proportion of overweight adults higher than that of the US. They also found that in Asia, Africa, and South America, those who are gaining weight the fastest are those just above poverty level, raising concerns about decreased starvation at the expense of poor nutrition. The World Health Organization has been concerned about global obesity for some time, projecting that by 2015 approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.
Sources: The New Yorker, World Health Organization

Wal-Mart plans to implement a new labeling system within the next five years to inform consumers about the sustainability of each product that they sell. The information will provide a rating based on sustainability factors such as how much water was used in making the product, what, if any, pollutants were used, and what the product’s carbon footprint is. The company hopes to set a precedent in the retail market that will be used across the board, and is asking for cooperation from its more than 100,000 suppliers. Due to its outsized market share, Wal-Mart’s business practices are de-facto industry standards.
Source: New York Times

By January 1, 2010, cell phone manufacturers will introduce a one-size-fits-all charger for use in the European Union. This initiative is aimed at reducing the thousands of tons of waste generated each year by cell phone-related paraphernalia. Electronic waste has become an increasing concern as cell phones and portable music devices contain toxic chemicals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, and zinc. The number of cell phones being discarded—in the millions worldwide, annually—poses health and environmental hazards.
Sources: CNN, www.wired.com

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