A rapid outbreak of hand, foot, and mouth disease has killed 34 children and infected thousands more. The disease is actually common in China, but it usually doesn't spread this fast. Some of the affected people are located in Beijing, causing concern ahead of this summer's Olympics.
A population collapse earlier this year prompted the federal government this week to declare the salmon fishing operation on the Pacific coast of the United States a failure, meaning drastic action will be taken to prop up fisheries. Only 60,000 salmon returned to California's Sacramento river to spawn, compared to 775,000 in 2002. Possible contributing factors to the collapse include ocean conditions, habitat destruction, dam operations, and agricultural pollution.
A train travelling across Canada was quarantined after an elderly woman died and several more people were found to be suffering from flu-like symptoms. Health workers in full hazardous materials suits isolated two train cars. Possible sources of the problem include a communicable disease, food poisioning, or environmental contamination.
New research from the University of Virginia shows that air pollution interferes with the ability of bees and other insects to track the scent of plants. This information could explain the current pollination crisis affecting many crops, as well as the poorly understood massive die-off of the North American bee population. Bees are important for the growth of many plants, including apples, pumpkins, and squash. The research suggests that air pollution reduces a flower's scent by as much as 90%.
The price of crude oil used to make gasoline peaked at $126.25 this week, establishing a new record. Prices at the pump are also on the rise, breaking $3.67 for the national average, and are causing economic distress where there is no effective alternative to gasoline powered transportation.
The price of staple foods like rice continues to increase. Some varieties of rice have doubled in price over the past year, causing stores to limit the amount an individual can purchase here in the U.S. Other parts of the globe are facing far more serious problems than rice runs at Costco, as the rapid price increase has endangered the ability of the world's poorest people to feed themselves. This week Somalia became the latest country to experience food riots, joining Mexico, Argentina, Cameroon, Egypt, and others. The price of rice is expected to be impacted by this week's cyclone in Burma.
The cost of oil and the cost of food are now linked through edible grains diverted to ethanol. Ethanol, touted over the last few years as a way to ease modern economies off their dependence on oil, is now blamed for the rising cost of corn, wheat, and other basics that increase the average grocery bill.
Mother nature unleashed a devastating tropical storm on the impoverished nation of Burma earlier this week. The exact extent of the devastation is unknown since Burma is governed by one the most secretive and tightly-controlled governments in the world, but current estimates place the number of dead around 100,000. Approximately 1 million people are thought to be homeless. Survivors are particuarly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease in the absence of effective aid. Some experts are predicting that the damage could be even greater then the tsunami in 2004, which killed around 350,000 people.
Higher intensity tropical storms, like Hurricane Katrina, have been linked to global warming. Particularly hard hit are the impoverished people living in low-lying coastal areas like the Irrawaddy Delta, a major rice-producing region in an economy where agriculture provides the best chance of survival.