Cooking your planet with gas.
(For the latest Human Nature columns on lesbianism, made-to-order embryos, and shrinking people, click here.)
A U.N. scientific report says the best-case scenario for global warming is already catastrophic. Calculations: 1) By 2100, at projected gas-production rates, temperatures will rise 3.5 to 8 degrees, with a significant chance of an even greater increase. 2) Sea level will rise 7 to 23 inches and will keep rising for 1,000 years, with historical evidence that levels could end up 20 feet higher than today. 3) Arid, subtropical countries will lose another 20 percent of their rainfall, exacerbating drought. 4) All of this is happening because of industry. Idealistic view: Finally, we see the threat and are mobilizing to save our planet. Cynical view: Last one out, turn off the air conditioner. (For Human Nature's take on air conditioning and global warming, click here.)
A Canadian report saysthe Chinese army is using Falun Gong prisoners to supply organs for medical tourists. The report is based on interviews with organ recipients and the hospital staff who attended them. Phone calls to Chinese officials confirmed the pattern. One Falun Gong adherent says his comrades at a labor camp "were systematically subjected to blood tests to match their organs with recipients." Another woman says her ex-husband, a surgeon, admitted taking corneas from 2,000 living Falun Gong prisoners. Theory: Hospitals need income to make up for government funding cuts; organs supply the income; and army doctors are able to conduct the transactions in secrecy. (For previous updates on organs from Chinese prisoners, click here, here, and here.)
A New Jersey school board banned surreptitious tape-recording in classrooms after a teacher was caught telling non-Christian kids they belonged in hell. The teacher also said that evolution wasn't scientific and that Noah's ark carried dinosaurs. A student says he recorded some of the comments because he feared nobody would believe the teacher had made them. Classmates later objected that their voices were on the recordings and were being broadcast without their consent. Board's responses: 1) Unspecified "corrective action" against the teacher. 2) Training all teachers in separation of church from state. 2) No recording in classrooms without the teacher's consent. (For previous updates on surveillance cameras and cell phone cameras, click here, here, and here.)
France's health minister may encourage napping at work. According to the AP, he "called for further studies and said he would promote on-the-job naps if they prove useful." Translated quote: "Why not a nap at work?" Rationale: Most French people say bad sleep at night has impaired their job performance. Critique: You want to know what impairs French job performance? Try their 35-hour work week and a gazillion weeks of guaranteed vacation. Napping is par for the course. (For previous updates on eating, driving, and having sex while asleep, click here, here, here, here, and here.)
A study suggests excess weight in football players is filtering down to high schools. Nearly half of Iowa high school linemen are overweight, and nine percent are severely obese, according to a sample of 3,600 players. Theory: 1) 300 pounds of weight is advantageous in pro football (a recent study found that most NFL players are technically obese), so 2) college teams cultivate heavy players, so 3) high-school kids put on weight to emulate their idols and win scholarships, so 4) other high-school kids have to put on weight just to keep up. Skeptical view: Obesity is defined by your ratio of weight to height, and in football players, a lot of that weight is muscle, not fat. (For Human Nature's take on beefing up linemen with steak instead of steroids, click here.)
Trans fat update: 1) Los Angeles dropped efforts to ban trans fats after concluding that only the California state government has such authority. 2) Instead, the city cut a deal with local restaurants to eliminate trans fats in 18 months. The deal is voluntary and applies only to members of the California Restaurant Association, a minority of local restaurants. 3) More than 1,200 McDonald's franchises have switched to trans-fat-free frying oil. 4) Research suggests that the most common replacement for trans fats—"interesterified fats"—may be just as unhealthy. Pious libertarian conclusion: Now the nannies will have to rethink banning trans fats. Cynical libertarian conclusion: Now they'll ban interesterified fats, too—and the next replacement will be even worse. (For Human Nature's take on banning trans fats, click here.)
Barbaro was euthanized. His owners said he was in too much pain after setbacks following his severe leg fracture last year. Romantic spins: 1) He fought bravely for months after his injury, when other horses would have given up. 2) His owners and other horse lovers fought gallantly to save his life, donating millions to animal medicine. 3) In his honor, let's carry on the fight to ban horse slaughter and fund health care for horses. Surgeon's view: "The opportunities afforded that horse were as heroic and modern as any human athlete would be afforded." Alternative view: Now, about health care for humans … (For Human Nature's take on Barbaro and eating meat, click here.)
With court approval, Israeli parents are using their dead son's sperm to inseminate a woman he never knew. It appears to be the first explicit legal authorization to make a baby using a corpse and a stranger. Argument from the dead man's mother: "He would always talk about how he wanted to get married and have children." After he died, "His eyes he told me that it wasn't too late, and that there was still something to take from him. … Then I realized it was his sperm." The family's lawyer says more than 100 Israeli soldiers have reportedly signed "biological wills" asking to freeze their sperm if they die while serving; some U.S. troops have frozen sperm samples before going to Iraq. Lawyer's spin: "We've created a victory over nature." Skeptical view: You've created a victory over parenthood. (For Human Nature's take on making and selling embryos from strangers, click here. For cloning animals from carcasses, click here.)
Nuclear power is making a comeback because global warming looks worse. 1) Hans Blix, the guy who led the U.N. inspections of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, says we should promote the spread of nuclear power, which emits no greenhouse gases, because "global warming [is] a greater threat than weapons of mass destruction." 2) The Tennessee Valley Authority is proposing the first two new U.S. reactors since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. Some 30 reactors are being planned nationwide, because "concerns about global warming have changed attitudes about nuclear energy." 3) Fear of global warming is prodding France and Germany toward nuclear power. Extra argument for nuclear: If we depend on oil, terrorists can halt our energy supply. Rebuttal: If you depend on nuclear, terrorists can blow up your reactor. (For a previous update on radioactive poisoning, click here. For the merits of ethanol and liquid coal, click here. For Human Nature's take on global warming and air conditioning, click here.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph on Slate's home page of a man napping by David De Lossy/Photodisc Green/Getty Images.