Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vatican scientist says OK to believe in aliens and God

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican's chief astronomer says there is no conflict between believing in God and in the possibility of intelligent life on other planets that is perhaps even more evolved than humans.

"In my opinion this possibility (of life on other planets) exists," said Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, a 45-year-old Jesuit priest who is head of the Vatican Observatory and a scientific adviser to Pope Benedict.

"How can we exclude that life has developed elsewhere," he told the Vatican newspaper in an interview in its Tuesday-Wednesday edition, explaining that the large number of galaxies with their own planets made this possible.

Asked if he was referring to beings similar to humans or even more evolved than humans, he said: "Certainly, in a universe this big you can't exclude this hypothesis".

But, in the interview headlined "The extraterrestrial is my brother," he said he saw no conflict between belief in such beings and faith in God.

"Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom," he said.

"Why can't we speak of a 'brother extraterrestrial'? It would still be part of creation," he said.

Peru creates environment ministry as glaciers melt

LIMA (Reuters) - President Alan Garcia on Tuesday created the first environment ministry in Peru, where scientists say climate change is hitting hard because of the Andean country's rich biodiversity.

Peru's melting glaciers, propped high in the Andes mountains, have just 25 years left until they run dry, putting the water security of farms and populations on the country's desert coast along the Pacific Ocean at risk, research shows.

"The environment ministry will ... allow us to defend Peru against global warming, the lack of fresh water and glacial destruction," Garcia told reporters.

European and Latin American leaders meeting in Peru later this week should work to promote reforestation efforts and carbon trading systems to cut greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming, he said.

Preserving Peru's vast Amazon rainforest plays a valuable role helping to combat climate change by absorbing carbon, and Garcia called on leaders to create a global reforestation fund financed by a fossil fuels tax.

'Doomsday' Seed Bank Receives First Deposits

Seeds from more than 200,000 varieties of crops from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have just been placed in a storage facility on a remote island near the Arctic Circle, where they will be stored in case a manmade or natural disaster destroys agriculture.

Various types of rice, wheat, beans, sorghum, sweet potatoes, lentils, chick peas and a host of other plants will be stored at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is capable of preserving their vitality for thousands of years.

These first deposits from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) collections contain duplicates from international agricultural research centers based in Benin, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines and Syria.

Collectively, the CGIAR centers maintain 600,000 plant varieties in crop gene banks, which are widely viewed as the foundation of global efforts to conserve agricultural biodiversity.

The doomsday vault, built by Norway as a service to the global community, will officially open on Feb. 26.

Tens of thousands dead or missing in China quake

by Staff Writers
Dujiangyan, China (AFP) May 13, 2008
China's biggest earthquake for a generation left tens of thousands dead, missing or buried under the rubble of crushed communities Tuesday, plunging the nation into an all-out aid effort.

Troops and rescue teams struggled by air, land and water to reach areas of southwestern China stricken by the huge quake that demolished schools, homes and factories.

Monday's 7.8-magnitude quake in Sichuan province has killed nearly 10,000 people, according to official tolls, but the figure is expected to rise dramatically with at least 10,000 people reported buried in Mianzhu city alone.

Television pictures showed shattered buildings, roads split in two, rubble littering streets and survivors fighting to free themselves from the debris, even as aftershocks continued to pummel the region.

China mobilised its 2.3 million-strong armed forces to lead the search and rescue effort, but attempts to reach the worst-hit areas were badly disrupted by torrential rain and the sheer scale of the damage.

"The situation is worse than we previously estimated," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said at disaster relief headquarters in the Sichuan city of Dujiangyan, "and we need more people here to help."

Expert Predicts Monsoon Britain

by Staff Writers
Durham, UK (SPX) May 12, 2008
Prepare for more floods - in ways we are not used to - that's the message from experts at Durham University who have studied rainfall and river flow patterns over 250 years. Last summer was the second wettest on record and experts say we must prepare for worse to come.

Professor Stuart Lane, from Durham University's new Institute of Hazard and Risk, says that after about 30 to 40 less eventful years, we seem to be entering a 'flood-rich' period. More flooding is likely over a number of decades.

Prof. Lane, who publishes his research in the current edition of the academic journal Geography, set out to examine the wet summer of 2007 in the light of climate change. His work shows that some of the links made between the summer 2007 floods and climate change were wrong. Our current predictions of climate change for summer should result in weather patterns that were the exact opposite of what actually happened in 2007.

Ships bring water to parched Barcelona

By David Shukman
BBC environment correspondent, Barcelona

Climb down the stony banks of the massive Sau reservoir in the mountains above Barcelona and you get a real sense of why this famous city is so short of water that it's resorted to bringing in emergency supplies - by ship. In a year that so far ranks as Spain's driest since records began 60 years ago, the reservoir is currently holding as little as 18% of its capacity - at a time of year when winter rains would usually have provided an essential boost by now.

Forecast for big sea level rise

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Vienna

Sea levels could rise by up to one-and-a-half metres by the end of this century, according to a new scientific analysis.

This is substantially more than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast in last year's landmark assessment of climate science.

Sea level rise of this magnitude would have major impacts on low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.

The findings were presented at a major science conference in Vienna.