Wind Power's Imprint On The Environment

Wind turbines are a green alterative to fossil fuel-burning power plants, whose carbon dioxide emissions are linked to global warming. But wind farms leave imprints on the environment, too, says University of Calgary professor David Keith. He and his colleagues ran simulations of the impact of windmills generating at least 2 terawatts of energy -- about as much electricity as the world uses now. "If you put enough wind turbines all over the planet, it will change the climate," Keith says. His report appears in the Nov. 16 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The wind farms would boost the "surface drag" of the earth, changing circulation patterns around the globe. But "the effects may not necessarily be harmful," Keith says. Overall global temperature would barely change, but polar regions would be cooler and equatorial regions warmer. That might counteract CO2-related global warming, which is expected to heat the poles more. Plus, Keith adds, replacing fossil fuel electricity with wind power would have the beneficial effect of reducing CO2 levels.

Scans of fingerprints, irises, and facial features are now integrated in security systems at building entrances, bank ATMs, and elsewhere. But some people find scans intrusive -- and they haven't been widely adopted. Fujitsu Laboratories hopes to fare better scanning vein patterns in the palm.

As with fingerprints, each person's palm is unique and changes little over time. An infrared light captures an image when the hand is placed on a device resembling a computer mouse. Authentication software then extracts the vein pattern and compares it with patterns already entered in a database to find a match -- all in less than a second.

Testing the system on 700 people -- from children to seniors -- Fujitsu found its scanner had a false rejection rate of 1% and a false acceptance rate of 0.5%. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, the third largest in Japan, plans to integrate palm-scanning with its cash machines starting this fall, and other banks may follow.

Destroying human embryos to obtain stem cells may not be palatable to some people even if the embryo consists of just a few hundred cells. Objections might soften, however, if the targeted embryos are not viable to begin with. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Columbia University doctors Donald W. Landry and Howard A. Zucker note that our society approves the harvesting of organs and tissues from the living bodies of people who are brain-dead. And there is indeed a comparable status for embryos. Many have defects that keep them from dividing after, say, 24 hours, and thus are "organismically dead," argue Landry and Zucker. Taking stem cells from such embryos could result in "widespread acceptance of the use of such cells for research and development."

-- Results of a clinical trial reported at the American Heart Assn. Scientific Sessions in New Orleans on Nov. 7 threw some cold water on hopes for disease management. That's a buzz-word among medicare experts and many private insurers who believe that having health-care personnel closely monitor patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes can lower costs by keeping the patients out of the hospital. A team of Texas researchers enrolled half of 1,069 patients suffering from heart failure, a progressive disorder, in a disease-management program for 18 months while the other half were treated with standard care. Although the managed patients lived an average of 76 days longer than the control group, it cost just as much to care for them, and there was no drop in hospitalizations.

-- Drugs can fail in their intended purposes and still be beneficial. Procter & Gamble's (PG) experimental drug Azimilide failed to correct abnormal heart rhythms in patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). But in a clinical trial described at the AHA meeting, the drug significantly reduced painful electrical shocks from the devices. It blocks particular currents in the heart that can cause abnormal rhythms. Dr. Paul Dorian of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, lead investigator on the trial, says the drug could improve the quality of life for many ICD patients, even if it doesn't prevent the disease from getting worse.

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