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Tracing the history of the Milky Way

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We all – even those of us who live in rural areas – live in a great city, one made of stars, our Milky Way galaxy. You can even see it on a dark night away from city lights, a vast, dense cloud of billions of stars that arches from horizon to horizon.

It wasn’t until 1923 when astronomer Edwin Hubble and others discovered that hazy nebulae that observers had been looking at for hundreds of years were not actually within our own galaxy, but were galaxies in their own right. Now we know there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.

Our own was born some 12.3 billion years ago, about one to three billion years after the Big Bang itself.

We are learning more and more, especially in the last ten years or so, about how the Milky Way formed and evolves. Like other spiral galaxies, our Milky Way has several distinct structural components that probably appeared at different stages in its formation process. The stars belonging to each component have distinct chemical compositions, and they move through the galaxy in distinctive ways. Such differences hold important clues about how the Milky Way formed and develops.

The Green U. S. Chamber of Commerce

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has not been a friend of environmental legislation or regulation. The Chamber, which represents more than 3 million U.S. businesses, spent millions to lead the successful fight against carbon cap-and-trade legislation, along with health care reform and most of President Obama's other legislative goals. It remains an implacable opponent of EPA environmental regulations — of greenhouse gases or just about anything else, arguing that they raise costs and hurt job creation.

A group of progressive businesses in California is working to provide an alternative to the Chamber. It's called the Green Chamber of Commerce, and it offers a place for businesses that want to embrace sustainability, not fight it. "There are businesses out there that want their voices heard," says David Steel, the president of the U.S. Green Chamber of commerce. "They don't feel represented by the positions that the U.S. Chamber might have."

Arctic fever

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In the far north of Alaska, the fragile food web that supports polar bears and humans alike may be starting to unravel

Bruce Barcott, on the Natural Resources Defense Council's On Earth blog talks about the impact of melting sea ice on the delicate food web in the Arctic and its implications for the rest of the world.

BP oil spill's health effects will be felt for generations, scientist warns

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Months after diving in Gulf of Mexico waters fouled by BP crude oil and the oil dispersant Corexit, a man in his 40s has more than five times the normal amount of ethylbenzene in his blood.

The bloodstream of a 3-year-old, exposed to the oil spill when his family visited the Gulf Coast, contains at least three times the normal level of the same organic hydrocarbon, which is toxic in certain quantities.

Such numbers, according to Wilma Subra, a New Iberia biochemist and environmental activist, are increasingly common in a region that continues to grapple with the consequences of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Bill Barros of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on a forum held in February at which Subra was the guest speaker.

NCR interviewed Wilma Subra last June as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continued, threatening the livelihood of thousands in the Gulf and the wetland environment of the coast.

'The great leap backward'

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Elizabeth Grossman, author of Chasing Molecules and High-Tech Trash, writes on the Huffington Post blog about the current effort in Congress to roll back environmental and occupational health and safety regulations in order to make American industry competitive with those in China.

"Seeking to lower production costs and boost per dollar productivity, U.S. companies have routinely sought locations with lower wages and less stringent environmental and occupational health and safety regulations. This has been true for some time, but now House Republicans are pushing to rollback standards ostensibly to make us more competitive with China. As we listen to these arguments, it's worth considering what environmental and working conditions in China actually are."

Caritas supports team working to make gold mining safer in Peru jungle

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By Barbara J. Fraser Catholic News Service

PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (CNS) -- In a small warehouse on the edge of this jungle town, three young men tinker with a system of pumps, hoses and bright blue plastic dishes mounted on metal bars.

They hope the odd-looking apparatus, designed to separate sand from flecks of gold, will reduce the impact of wildcat mining that is fouling rivers and streams in Peru's southeastern Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region, one of the most biologically diverse places in the world.

Richard Villavicencio, 22, pours sediment into a metal chute, and small jets of water force it around spirals cut into the bottom of the dishes. The lighter gold flecks wash into the next dish, leaving the heavier sand behind.

The principle is the same one used by the '49ers who panned for gold during the California Gold Rush.

It is based on a model developed in Canada, but Villavicencio, his brother Walter, 31, and Henry Arbex, 33, are working with the local office of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's aid and development agency, to fine-tune the design.

Church aids Peru's indigenous communities in illegal mining fight

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By Barbara J. Fraser, Catholic News Service
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru -- At a fork in a muddy road, Juana Payaba gestures to a cluster of makeshift buildings as motors rumble nearby, where wildcat gold miners are churning a palm swamp into a quagmire.
Payaba, who is president of Tres Islas, an indigenous community of Shipibo and Ese'eja people in this corner of Peru's Amazon region, is determined to take on gold miners who she says are occupying her community's lands illegally, destroying the forest and poisoning the rivers and streams with mercury.

"We want to do community tourism here and put in a fish farm," says Payaba, who estimates that 200 illegal miners stand in the way of those plans.
Experts who are helping the community, including a lawyer from the Peruvian bishops' Social Action Commission, say they are willing to take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights if Peruvian courts do not protect the community's land rights.

More about the assault on the EPA and Clean Air and Water Acts

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In an interview by New America Media, Sierra Club chairman Carl Pope talks about the current attack in Congress on the EPA and by extension the Clean Air and Water Act.

For more on the current assault, read "What's at Risk from the Industry's Assault on the EPA and Clean Air Act," on the Natural Resources Defense Council's Web site. It details all of the public health standards that are currently under attack.

Passing on a love of nature to kids

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A recent article in USA Today reported that the average American child spends 53 hours a week with electronic media. This alarming statistic means children aren’t getting anywhere near a comparable time outside. But we can be intentional about changing this for the children we influence. I encourage you to make this effort for several reasons: 1) Children need nature to be balanced and whole and we want what is good for them 2) If children know and love nature, they will be more zealous in protecting it 3) Kids have a natural affinity for nature and it brings out their joy and wonder and 4) We want them to know God revealed in creation.

We’ve probably all said to kids, “Do as I say,” when we weren’t modeling it. Yet we know that never works. Passing on a love of nature has to begin with ourselves. If we are couch potatoes, seldom venturing outdoors, the command to “Get outside and play” won’t hold much weight. So maybe it’s time to examine our priorities and how much we value the natural world, being out in it, and protecting it. The good news is that if we do, the children around us will probably pick that up naturally.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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