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The Grim Reefer

More than 25 percent of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed by global warming, pollution, and destructive fishing techniques, and most of the rest could be dead in 20 years if serious action isn't taken to address these problems, according to scientists assembled in Indonesia this week at a major coral reef conference. Global warming is the most serious of the threats facing reefs; rising water temperatures cause the coral to expel microscopic organisms that are crucial to their health, a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Some reefs have been hit particularly hard by water temperature increases over the …

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And other words from readers

Your letters on Ralph Nader keep coming and coming. Here are a few of the latest missives. (And if you just can't read enough on this juicy topic, check out our first, second, and third batches of Nader letters.)   Dear Editor: There's a point that appears to have been missed in the Nader/Gore/Bush "wasted vote" debate. All of the letters I read have missed something about the way we elect presidents -- namely, that we don't; the Electoral College does, in a state-by-state "winner-take-all" system. More than half of the states are committed to Gore or Bush already. If …

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I'll Take the Environment for $600, Jim

The environment got the most attention it's ever received in a presidential debate last night, with much of the focus on global warming. Vice President Al Gore argued that actions must be taken now to combat global warming, and that there would be great economic gains for the U.S. if it were the country to lead the charge on producing clean cars and other eco-friendly technologies. Gore said, "I want to be able to tell my grandson when I'm in my later years that I didn't turn away from the evidence that showed that we were doing some serious harm." …

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The Pacific Grim

Air pollution from factories and power plants in booming Asian cities is blowing across the Pacific to the West Coast of North America, posing threats to human health and wildlife far from the pollution's original sources, according to a report published last week in the journal Science. Report coauthor Kenneth Wilkening of the University of Northern British Columbia said, "With increasing industrialization around the world, everybody is upwind or downwind of everybody else." The pollution, including ozone, mercury, and persistent organic pollutants, takes only 5 to ten days to reach North America from Asia, and is particularly problematic in the …

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You Have the Right to Remain Noisy

Texas officials have tentatively agreed to pay $99,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by environmentalists who were arrested for peacefully protesting on the sidewalk in front of the governor's mansion, the residence of George W. Bush. The enviros, who were calling on Bush to push for a measure requiring old polluting industrial plants to clean up their emissions (Bush didn't oblige), were arrested four times in the spring of last year. The suit alleged that Bush and the state Department of Public Safety violated the protestors' free speech rights. In another environmental embarrassment for the GOP presidential candidate, word is …

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The Cars Are Stacked Against Us

While a few small cars being sold in U.S. showrooms get 40 or more miles to the gallon, the vast majority of 2001 model year vehicles get about 20 mpg, according to annual fuel economy statistics released yesterday by the U.S. EPA. The popularity of SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans drove down the mileage figures. Just like the previous year, the two most fuel-efficient cars being sold in the country are hybrid gas-electric vehicles -- the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. Speaking of efficiency, the U.S. Department of Energy today will propose new standards for central air conditioners and heat …

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Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel — Oh Wait, There Is No Bottom

Radioactive contamination in groundwater may be 400 times higher than the federal standard at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state because high-level nuclear waste was buried 40 years ago in containers that had no bottoms, the U.S. Energy Department said on Friday. The department's groundwater manager said the contamination will likely reach the Columbia River. Meanwhile, newly released documents show that groundwater has also been contaminated in Paducah, Ky., where a uranium processing plant spread plutonium outside the plant's boundaries. Last year, the DOE launched an investigation into the plant after the Washington Post reported on problems there, and …

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Let the Rivalry Begin!

Bitter rivals Toyota and Honda are racing against each other to create affordable eco-friendly cars. Toyota announced this week that it plans to offer a full range of hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles, everything from ultra-compacts to luxury sedans, SUVs, and commercial trucks, though the company didn't specify when they would hit showrooms. Enviros have praised Toyota and Honda for starting to sell the hybrid Toyota Prius and Honda Insight in the U.S. this year, and Honda now plans to sell a hybrid Civic next year. Honda also announced this week that it has developed a prototype four-seater fuel-cell car that will …