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Monday, December 15, 2008

Top 10 Modern Space Videos

Spacex By Aaron Rowe

Weightlessness, dark matter, and mind-blowing telescope images are great reasons to be excited about space exploration. Here are some of the best videos from our most recent decade of space travel.

10. CD Players in Microgravity


9. Soyuz Rocket Carries Tourist to Space Station


8. Water Droplets and Alka-Seltzer in Microgravity


7. 3-D Map of Dark Matter


6. First Chinese Spacewalk


5. View of Shuttle Launch from Inside of the Orbiter


4. Drinking Coffee in Space is Tricky


3. The First Private Liquid-Fuel Rocket Makes it to Space


2. The Most Important Image Ever Taken by Humanity


1. Earthrise Seen from the Moon

What did we miss? If you know of a great space video that should get some airplay on our website, please tell us about it.

Original here

Mars exploration: Phoenix: a race against time

Eric Hand reports on the short life and hard times of the little Mars lander that sort-of-could.

By the standards of Tucson, Arizona — let alone the northern plains of Mars — Ithaca, New York, is lush in any season. But winter is coming on. The autumn foliage is already past its prime as Peter Smith strides up the steep hill towards the Cornell University campus. It is 14 October, and Smith, a professor at the University of Arizona, is scheduled to give a talk on the status of NASA's Phoenix lander at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Science. Smith is Phoenix's principal investigator, and the only academic ever to have overall responsibility for running a mission on the surface of Mars. He has decided to walk from his downtown hotel to the conference centre, and the unseasonably sunny weather is exacting its toll. A patch of sweat spreads from the centre of his bright orange golf shirt towards the burning, beady-eyed bird emblazoned on his breast: the Phoenix mission badge.

Smith is not the first speaker in the session on ongoing NASA missions; that is local hero Steve Squyres, the Cornell professor responsible for the science packages on Spirit and Opportunity, the rovers that have been trundling across the planet indefatigably since 2004. Squyres bounds up onto the stage in boots and blue jeans: "I've only got 20 minutes for this, so hang onto your seats." After a whirlwind tour of hills climbed, craters visited and geological features studied, Squyres finishes with the latest ambition for Opportunity: a 12-kilometre trek to a crater 22 kilometres across. It could take up to two years to complete.

“The mission's not quite what I thought it would be at the beginning.”

Peter Smith

Smith looks tired as he mounts the stage. He stands back from the podium and flashes a smile. "You know, there's a big difference between Steve and me," he says. "Steve's always moving. I stay in one place. I'm kinda a couch guy, ya know? So our missions are like that, too." But for all his self-depreciation, Smith talks with real pride about what his team of, at its peak, 300 people has done. It has delivered a comparatively cheap spacecraft to the surface of Mars, and set it down on a plain rich in near-surface ice. The analytical lab on board has found evidence of intriguing salts; Smith shows a picture of strange spots on one of the lander's legs that might, conceivably, be water droplets (see 'Strange brew'). Another instrument has found evidence for carbonates, formed in the presence of water, and a weak signal that, Smith says, might just be due to organic molecules — something never detected before on Mars. So much to relish and pursue — if only there were more time.

But there isn't. Whereas Squyre's rovers have had their mission stretched from its original 90 sols — the term used for a Martian day — to 1,700 and counting, nothing like that is possible for Phoenix. The plain it sits on is far to the north of the rovers, and the winter that is swiftly coming on is harsh enough to freeze the thin atmosphere onto Phoenix's body. The scientists running the various instruments are jockeying for a share of the ever-lower power levels as the days get shorter and the sun sinks lower; the end is in sight. The Cornell talk is on the mission's 138th sol. Smith knows that well before sol 200 the mission will be over, the lander dead on its darkling plain.

Reversal of fortune

The mission has taken its toll on Smith, normally a gregarious, happy-go-lucky man. During the talk, he charms the audience with his humour. But over lunch he is uncharacteristically downbeat, even testy. "It's not quite what I thought it would be at the beginning," he says, picking at his food. "We're right there, next to a soil that has all these wonderful secrets locked into it. We've got the right instruments, we've got the right people involved, everything is perfect. And we can't quite get those bits of scientific knowledge out of our instruments. It's a frustration, I tell you. We're going right down to the wire."

Phoenix was a child of misfortune. After the success of Mars Pathfinder in 1997, the first landing on Mars since those of the Vikings in 1976, NASA's Mars programme managers had taken up then-Administrator Dan Goldin's mantra of "faster, better, cheaper", trying to deliver two small, innovative spacecraft to the planet every two years. But in September 1999, Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the planet's atmosphere because no-one had noticed a confusion between metric and imperial units in the navigation commands. Three months later Mars Polar Lander (MPL) was lost as it made its way to a site near the planet's South Pole, probably because its thrusters shut off while it was still 40 metres up in the air.

Taking no more chances, in 2000 NASA cancelled a lander planned for 2001 that would have used the same design as MPL. And a proposed orbiter, the Mars 2003 Surveyor, lost its launch opportunity to Squyres' rovers. This put Smith in dire straits. Smith had run the main camera on Mars Pathfinder, and had MPL survived he would have done the same on that mission. He had also been working on providing and running cameras for both the cancelled missions, work now curtailed. "I had no job. I lost 35 employees. I had no mission." Smith went to work for University of Arizona colleague Alfred McEwen, who was managing the Hi-Rise camera for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, due to fly in 2005.

But faster, better, cheaper was not quite dead. In 2002, NASA opened up a competition for a new 'Mars Scout' line of low-cost missions, modelled after its Discovery missions to the rest of the Solar System. Smith got back into the fray. He was the cameraman on six of the Scout proposals — and the principal investigator on a proposal of his own. "No matter who won," he says, "I would win too."

The Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer looked fine in the lab (left), but on Mars, soil samples didn't always make it inside.Bill Boynton oversees development work on Phoenix.H. ENOS

Smith's proposal, Phoenix, was an ingenious one. It would use hardware from the abandoned 2001 lander to run a mission similar to the ill-fated MPL — but flipped from one pole to the other. Bill Boynton, a burly, balding colleague of Smith's at the University of Arizona, and also a veteran of MPL, was in charge of a γ-ray spectrometer on Mars Odyssey, an orbiter launched in 2001. He was finding evidence of broad haloes of near-surface hydrogen extending out from the planet's polar ice caps. The implication was that there was water ice in the plains, and that it was close enough to the surface to be studied with little more than a trowel. The northern plains seemed to be as icy as MPL's target site in the south, but with the advantages of being flat, mostly boulder-free and at much lower elevation. A spacecraft landing there would have considerably more atmosphere to slow it down before reaching the surface.

The Phoenix proposal suggested a landing on those northern plains with two specific goals: to study the history of water in the Martian arctic, and to assess the biological potential of the boundary between the ice and soil, in search of evidence of an environment that might be habitable. In 2003, to the surprise of many, Phoenix won the competition to become the first Mars Scout, beating a range of less risky missions. As on the Discovery missions, Smith would be in charge of everything. A project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, would supervise the contracts and construction of the mission. But Smith's out-of-the-way university would be the operational home.

So beautiful, so new

Sol 0: Principal investigator Peter Smith celebrates Phoenix's safe touchdown, as depicted on the mural outside the mission's science operations centre.Sol 0: Principal investigator Peter Smith celebrates Phoenix's safe touchdown, as depicted on the mural outside the mission's science operations centre.A. POULSON; L. K. HO/AP

Smith's science operations centre is in a residential neighbourhood a few kilometres from the university campus in Tucson. It is a low-slung, stucco building amid the dun-coloured homes, anonymous but for a bright, almost garish mural showing Phoenix's descent to Mars. On 25 May — sol zero — hundreds of scientists, engineers and their families gathered there to munch on picnic food and watch the tracking information relayed to Earth via Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Phoenix's interplanetary voyage came to an end.

In what the team was calling the 'seven minutes of terror', Phoenix plunged through the thin air. The blackened heat shield was jettisoned. The parachute opened. Mission controllers called out altitudes. Twelve retro-rocket thrusters began a rapid fire dance of high-pressure hydrazine. After a final twist to orient itself to maximize the amount of sunlight its solar panels would absorb, Phoenix touched down. It was the first landing on Mars since the Vikings to use rockets, not air bags, to cushion the descent, and in the imaginations of the scientists and engineers back on Earth it had done so flawlessly. In Tucson, people cheered and clapped and cried. "The landing was probably the biggest high of the whole mission," says Smith. "We were told over and over and over again to expect it to fail."

Sol 20: Phoenix spots possible chunks of ice (arrow) in the Dodo-Goldilocks trenches. By sol 24 they are gone (right).Sol 20: Phoenix spots possible chunks of ice (arrow) in the Dodo-Goldilocks trenches. By sol 24 they are gone (right).NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UNIV. ARIZONA/TEXAS A&M UNIV.

The influx of data was, at first, as smooth and splendid as the landing had been. As the scientists adapted their bodies to sols instead of days — an extra 40 minutes every 24 hours leads to something like permanent jet lag — Phoenix's main camera, mounted two metres above the plain, started on a panorama. Early shots revealed cracks in the soil that marked out polygons of different sizes. The cracks hinted at cycles of warming and cooling that had changed over time — in sync, perhaps, with oscillations in the tilt and orbit of Mars. The lander's robot arm reached out and scratched at the ground, and on sol 20 the camera saw some pale nuggets at the bottom of a trench a few centimetres deep. Four sols later they were gone; it was ice that had sublimed from solid to vapour after being exposed to the balmy warmth of the polar summer: −31 °C that day, according to the lander's meteorological station.

The pictures were meant to be just an appetizer; the main course was to be soil samples fed into Phoenix's eight tiny bellies, each of them an oven that could bake its contents to 1,000 °C. Phoenix's nose, a mass spectrometer, would sniff the gases given off, detecting compounds down to concentrations as low as 10 parts per billion. The whole ovens-plus-spectrograph system was the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA), and it was crucial to the mission's goal of seeking out organic compounds in the soil. Viking had failed to find such compounds; but TEGA had hotter ovens and a landing site where, some argued, the iciness of the soil would preserve organic compounds well (see Nature 448, 742–744; 2008). Such compounds might not be evidence of life — various apparently lifeless sites in the Solar System have complex carbon chemistry — but they would speak to Phoenix's goal of assessing habitability.

TEGA, based on a similar instrument that had flown on MPL, was run by Boynton. The man who was detecting ice from orbit with one spectrometer would also melt it down on the Martian ground to sniff its isotopes with another. TEGA was at the heart of Phoenix's planned science, Boynton says. Its results were the most eagerly anticipated, and its care and feeding took up a great deal of the team's time. Impressively, the workhorse had been put together for just $13.6 million by a dozen university scientists and technicians. But TEGA was temperamental from the moment it was put to work.

By this distant northern sea

In April 2007, a few days before TEGA was shipped from Tucson to Lockheed Martin in Denver, where it would be bolted onto the spacecraft, a short circuit was found in a filament inside the mass spectrometer. It was not a fatal flaw; there was time to clear up the problem, and the instrument had a second filament as backup. On sol 4, though, the backup filament was found to have a short circuit, leaving TEGA without a safety net and heightening the stress on Boynton's team. Towards the end of June, on sol 25, another short circuit was discovered, this time in one of the oven units, probably caused by the shaking the unit was subjected to as the spacecraft operators tried get some surprisingly sticky soil through a grating. Again, the short wasn't fatal — it affected only one of the ovens — but it added to the nervousness both in Tucson and at NASA headquarters.

On missions led by principal investigators, such as the Discoveries and Scouts, NASA is supposed to defer to the scientist in charge on all matters of scientific operation. But Phoenix was high profile and some of its instruments a little erratic. At headquarters, everyone from Administrator Michael Griffin down was involved in daily reviews of the mission, says Doug McCuistion, Mars exploration programme chief at NASA. At the end of June, word came down that the Phoenix team was to treat its next TEGA sample as its last, and to go after a sample of rock-hard ice before it did anything else. The Tucson team had lost its autonomy.

"We stepped in, I'll be honest," says McCuistion. Boynton — a bit of a bulldog when it came to keeping control over his instrument — acknowledges the logic: "NASA was really afraid … that if we never got the ice it would be embarrassing." But he and Smith still resent the way that the mission was taken over. "That's not the way you do these things," says Smith. "That's why we were pushed at the end."

It took the team days to figure out how to get the scraps of ice, shredded with a rasp, into the arm's scoop. Then, when the scoop was turned over above one of TEGA's ovens, the ice refused to fall out. Even when the team figured out how to sprinkle some out, it was faced with what would become the most nagging of the mission's problems: the doors to the ovens only opened partway. Much of what came out of the scoop didn't make it into the ovens.

Sol 157: Phoenix's final sunset, as imagined by an artist on Earth.The Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer looked fine in the lab (left), but on Mars, soil samples didn't always make it inside.NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UNIV. ARIZONA/MAX PLANCK INST.

What made the glitch most maddening was that the mistake had been caught before launch. One of the differences between the TEGA on Phoenix and that on MPL was a thin retracting cover to keep the instruments from being contaminated by any stowaway microbes from Earth. Boynton and his team had noticed, on a test version of TEGA, that the brackets at the bottom of this cover were just a hair's width too big, and as a result obstructed the doors. They sent revised designs for the cover to the manufacturer, Honeybee Robotics of New York. New parts were delivered and installed. But Honeybee had made the new parts using the original flawed designs — and nobody in Tucson checked them. "They should've caught it and we should've caught it, but neither of us did," says Boynton, ruefully.

Boynton says that the problems with TEGA weren't lost capabilities, but lost time: "the clock was running against us". After three unsuccessful weeks attempting to get some pure ice into an oven, the NASA directive was relaxed, and the Phoenix team went for its preferred option: scrapings of icy soil. There was enough ice in the soil for TEGA to confirm that it was water, but not enough to measure its isotopic make-up — a measurement that could have provided insights into the history of the planet's water and atmosphere. In August and September, TEGA went on to cook up several more shallow soil samples, and found strong signals for calcium carbonate, which is typically found precipitated out of water. More intriguing to Boynton was a low-temperature signal in all the samples — the same signal that Smith had hinted at in Ithaca. It probably came from a different type of carbonate, but it could have been the trace of an organic molecule.

The breath of the night wind

On sol 153 — a few days before Halloween, and a few weeks after Smith gave his talk at Cornell — Boynton celebrates his 64th birthday and convenes the final TEGA planning session in his office on campus. The mission scientists have long since vacated the science operation centre; only Smith and some support staff remain there. Boynton has a bandage on his left hand where a mishap with a coffee machine has left him with a third-degree burn; TEGA hasn't been much kinder. The previous evening Boynton had heard from mission engineers that Phoenix had entered a 'safe' mode — the "do no harm" response programmed into spacecraft as a way to deal with unexpected circumstances — and that commands to Phoenix to shut down its heaters, an attempt to conserve power, had not gone through. But there is still a chance that the TEGA team will get the power, and time, for one last experiment. With his good hand, Boynton wipes crumbs of celebratory chocolate and pumpkin cake from the table and he and his engineers sit down to go over blocks of programming code to be radioed up to Phoenix. They have done this hundreds of times before in the lifetime of the mission. Sunlight streams in through a large glass window, filled nearly to the edges of the frame by the crags of Mount Lemmon, which looms over Tucson. "This is the last block I'm ever going to have to write," says one of the engineers.

They pour over their packet of code — instructions to some valves to open and some to shut — looking for errors. The goal is to suck an atmospheric sample into TEGA and draw out all the carbon dioxide, leaving proportionally higher concentrations of trace gases. The mass spectrometer would then measure the isotopes of argon and other noble gases, which in turn would offer up information about the history of Mars's atmosphere.

They know their best-laid plans may not come to pass, just as they have not in the past. They are ready for the end, which will bring both relief and grief. "It's really has been a lot more emotional than I expected it to be. We wanted it to do a little bit more," says Heather Enos, the TEGA instrument manager. "But isn't that always human nature?".

“There's some relief when it's over. On the other hand, it seems over too soon.”

Peter Smith

In many ways, the trials and tribulations of TEGA are representative of those of the entire mission. At $428 million, Phoenix was a 'low-cost' mission that took on significant risk. According to Boynton, there is no way that one of NASA's traditional operation centres, such as JPL, could ever have operated it for less than half a billion dollars, or built an instrument like TEGA for $13.6 million. "JPL would just say you can't do it, you gotta do it for this much or not at all. We figured there was a shot we could do it. But we did cut corners." A similar, but much fancier, instrument on JPL's vastly overbudget $2-billion Mars Science Laboratory, the launch of which was last week put off for two years to 2011, has cost about $80 million. It is being assembled by 50 scientists and engineers.

Gentry Lee, JPL's chief engineer for Solar System exploration, says that Phoenix will be remembered for getting "remarkable bang for the buck". The lander performed science on almost every sol of its 157-sol life. It baked samples in five of eight of its ovens, and used three of its four wet chemistry beakers; it never tested the ice, but it tested icy soil. It took more than 25,000 pictures. Its atomic force microscope saw plate-like particles 100 times smaller than those spotted in the best resolution images from the rovers' microscopic imagers. Its main camera saw snow falling from overhead clouds, and frost gathering on the ground.

Boynton says that they didn't reach the optimum point on the science per dollar curve, and he wishes, especially, that they had more money for post-mission analysis, given that the scientists had so little time to work with data during the mission. He is still working on Earth-based controls that might help to decipher that enigmatic low-temperature, probably carbonate signal from TEGA. But he doesn't regret the way things turned out one bit. They stayed within their cost caps. And they delivered. Maybe not to the doorstep, but at least to the front yard. "You can't expect the toast to always fall butter-side up."

Like a land of dreams

The next night, when Phoenix finally takes leave of this world, Peter Smith sleeps through its slipping away. At seven the following morning, he answers the door to his home in NASA-labelled athletic shorts, having just woken up to an e-mail with the subject 'Not so good news'. "You picked a heckuva day to come," he says. The sun, still low, has yet to bake off the desert's night-time chill.

Despite efforts to turn off power-hungry heaters, the lander, with its batteries drained, has gone beyond its safe mode to 'Lazarus mode', an autonomous state in which it tries to operate fixed programs but no longer takes new commands on board. Engineers will monitor weak signals for three more days but never regain control. The science mission has ended.

But the time to grieve has not yet come, because the dog must be walked. Smith puts on his running shoes and grabs the leash. Happy, his exuberant one-year-old mutt — "some sled dog," Smith mutters, still bleary — is already bouncing. Happy charges past the barrel cactus in the front yard and Smith, tugged along, wrestles for the words that describe the end that he knew would come. "There's some relief when it's over. On the other hand, it seems over too soon."

Lee, who has seen generations and missions come and go, says that there is a place for Mars missions of all styles and sizes. Big, expensive flagships for the jobs that cannot fail; smaller, cheaper missions for the ones that can; and, occasionally, medium-sized ones that take dead parts and make them live again. Phoenix has shed light on the results of the Viking experiments, and it is already influencing the way that scientists practice with the scoop on the Mars Science Laboratory. Mars missions are mutually indebted in a way missions to more seldom visited places cannot be — it is part of the luxury of a destination less than a year's rocket ride away. An exploration programme committed to staggered missions, built on what came before, provides some solace in the face of disappointment. But it's hard to deny the pathos of a mission that goes from landing to ending in five months, with many hopes unrealized.

Tucson is getting hotter by the minute. In a desert 374 million kilometres away, Phoenix is chilled to the bone, waiting for the solid CO2 that will soon freeze from the sky to entomb it. Peter Smith, 61, will soon be out of his job as a principal investigator, and he will never run a spacecraft again. Happy noses in the dirt, sniffing for something that's probably organic.

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Vatican condemns IVF in bio-ethics review

John Hooper in Rome

In its most authoritative declaration on bio-ethics for more than 20 years, the Vatican yesterday reinforced its hostility to a wide range of techniques and treatments that have become available in recent decades. They included IVF, embryonic stem cell research, the morning-after pill and the contraceptive drug mifepristone.

A 36-page document endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI stopped short of declaring that human embryos were people. The pope's chief adviser on bio-ethical issues, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, told a press conference that such a declaration would have embroiled the Vatican in a "very complex philosophical debate".

But he said, the document fully backed the idea that a human embryo had the "dignity typical of a person".

And he noted this was an "advance" on the position taken in the Vatican's last high-level pronouncement, its 1987 instruction entitled Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life).

The formulation in its latest document, Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person), comes close to equating with murder such practices as the destruction of defective embryos in IVF.

On one issue - what to do with frozen, "orphan" embryos - the Vatican admitted it was flummoxed. Dignitas Personae rules out every apparent solution: their destruction, their donation to infertile couples and their use for therapeutic or experimental purposes.

It said that proposals for the adoption of unwanted embryos were "praiseworthy in intention", but fraught with problems.

Fisichella's predecessor as president of the Pontifical Pro-life Academy, Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, said: "Our basic advice is that the freezing [of the embryos] ought not to be done." It created "a blind alley"; a situation "the correction of which implies another mistake".

But neither he nor any of the other Vatican officials at the presentation would venture an opinion on what they considered the lesser evil.

The document otherwise restates the Catholic church's opposition to abortifacient forms of contraception, or those it regards as such. These include the world's most widely used method of reversible contraception, the intrauterine device (IUD) or coil.

Dignitas Personae said most forms of artificial fertilisation were "to be excluded" on the grounds that they replaced "the conjugal act" as a means of reproduction. And it said pre-implantation diagnosis during IVF, in which embryos are examined for defects or to determine gender or other characteristics, was "shameful and utterly reprehensible".

Saying life was sacred from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, the document also defended the Catholic church's right to intervene on such matters.

It accepted, however, that Catholic parents, especially in the US, might have no alternative to having their children inoculated with vaccines produced with cells from aborted foetuses.

It also stressed that the Catholic church did not oppose the use by researchers of adult stem cells.

Original here

Breakthrough experiment on high-temperature superconductors

The highly unusual situation shown in this plot had not been predicted by any known theoretical model.
The highly unusual situation shown in this plot had not been predicted by any known theoretical model.

The international team of physicists, led by Professor Nigel Hussey from the University’s Physics Department, publish their results today in Science Express, a rapid online access service for important new publications in the journal Science.

Superconductivity is a process by which a pair of electrons travelling in opposite directions and with opposite spin direction suddenly become attracted to one another. By pairing up, the two electrons manage to lose all their electrical resistance. This superconducting state means that current can flow without the aid of a battery.

Historically, this remarkable state had always been considered a very low temperature phenomenon, thus the origin of the superconductivity peculiar to very unusual metallic materials termed ‘high temperature superconductors’, still remains a mystery.

Hussey and his team used ultra-high (pulsed) magnetic fields – some of the most powerful in the world – to destroy the superconductivity and follow the form of the electrical resistance down to temperatures close to absolute zero.

They found that it was as the superconductivity becomes stronger, so does the scattering that causes the resistance in the metallic host from which superconductivity emerges. At some point however, the interaction that promotes high temperature superconductivity gets so strong, that ultimately it destroys the very electronic states from which the superconducting pairs form. The next step will be to identify just what that interaction is and how might it be possible to get around its self-destructive tendencies.
In doing this experiment, the team was able to reveal information that will help theorists to develop a more complete theory to explain the properties of high temperature superconductors.

“Indeed”, said Hussey, “if researchers are able to identify what make these superconductors tick, and the electrons to pair up, then material scientists might be able to create a room temperature superconductor. This holy grail of superconductivity research holds the promise of loss-free energy transmission, cheap, fast, levitated transport and a whole host of other revolutionary technological innovations.”

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Vatican Spells Out No-Nos in New Bioethics Document

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican raised its opposition to embryonic stem cell research, the morning-after pill, in vitro fertilization and human cloning to a new level Friday in a major new document on bioethics.

But in the document, the Vatican also said it approved of some forms of gene therapy and encouraged stem cell research using adult cells. And it said parents could in good conscience inoculate their children with vaccines produced with cells derived from aborted fetuses.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued "The Dignity of a Person" to answer bioethical questions that have emerged in the two decades since its last such document was published.

With it, the Vatican has essentially confirmed in a single, authoritative instruction the opinions of the Pontifical Academy for Life, a Vatican advisory body that has debated these issues for years.

The Vatican's overall position is formed by its belief that human life begins at conception, and must be afforded all the consequent respect and dignity from that moment on. The Vatican also holds that human life should be created through intercourse between husband and wife, not in a petri dish.

As a result, the Vatican said it opposed the morning-after pill, even if it doesn't cause an abortion, because an abortion was "intended." In the use of drugs such as RU-486, which causes the elimination of the embryo once it is implanted, the "sin of abortion" is committed; their use is thus "gravely immoral."

The Vatican also said it opposed in vitro fertilization because it involves separating conception from the "conjugal act" and often results in the destruction of embryos. The Vatican supports, however, techniques that help couples overcome obstacles to getting pregnant.

In the document, the Vatican elaborated on a host of issues surrounding assisted fertility, saying it:

  • Opposed the selective reduction of embryos often used in in vitro procedures since it essentially is abortion.
  • Opposed pre-implantation diagnosis of embryos since it may be followed by the destruction of those embryos deemed defective or otherwise undesirable.
  • Opposed freezing embryos, since it is "incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos" and also means they were created in vitro.

It said that, while freezing eggs is not in itself immoral, it becomes unacceptable when it occurs for the sake of artificial procreation.

The Vatican lauded as "praiseworthy" the suggestion by some to let infertile couples "adopt" the thousands of frozen embryos that have been produced in vitro over the years. But it said such adoptions present a host of medical, psychological and legal problems.

The instruction also weighed in on research involving stem cells, cloning and gene therapy.

The Vatican stressed that it fully supported research involving adult stem cells. But it said obtaining stem cells from a living embryo, even for the sake of effective therapies, was "gravely illicit."

It said gene therapy on regular cells in the body other than reproductive ones was in principle morally licit since it sought to "restore the normal genetic configuration of the patient or to counter damage caused by genetic anomalies."

But it said that cell therapy which seeks to correct genetic defects with the aim of transmitting the therapy onto offspring was more problematic.

"Because the risks connected to any genetic manipulation are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause harm to the resulting progeny," the document said.

In the document, the Vatican also:

  • Repeated its opposition to human cloning for both medical therapies and reproduction. Such techniques could result in an individual being subjected to a form of "biological slavery from which it would be difficult to free himself."
  • Said parents could in good conscience use a vaccine for their children that was developed using cell lines from an "illicit origin." Religious groups in the United States have pressed the Vatican to issue a statement concerning the morality of using vaccines developed using cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

"Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such 'biological material,'" the instruction said, adding that the parents would have to make known their disagreement with the way the vaccines were developed and press for alternatives.

But the document was very strong in stressing that researchers using such material were in a different position and had a greater degree of responsibility. It said they had a moral duty to remove themselves from the "evil aspects" of the original, illicit act — even if they and their institutions had nothing to do with it.

Original here

Urban otters join foxes and squirrels in Britain's towns and cities

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent

Otter - Urban otters join foxes and squirrels in Britain's towns and cities
Otters are increasingly being seen in more built-up areas, according to a survey conducted by wildlife enthusiasts Photo: PA

The semi-aquatic mammals, which can grow up to four feet long, were until recently restricted to river banks and waterways in isolated pockets of the countryside. Even there, they were a rare sight.

However, a wildlife survey has found that otters are following species such as foxes and squirrels by adopting an urban lifestyle.

They can be found in town gardens, parks and churchyards around the country, according to the findings of the sixth annual survey of mammals living in towns and cities, conducted by members of the People's Trust for Endangered Species and Mammal Trust UK.

An otter was filmed in the centre of Bristol earlier this year, while there have been reports of the creatures being seen feeding in major cities including Birmingham, Manchester and even in London in the Thames and River Lee.

The Wildlife Trusts estimate that otters are now established in at least 13 towns and cities across the country, and say they have had reports of sightings in 100 other urban locations.

Wildlife experts believe the migration from countryside to town is a result of improving water quality and expanding fish stocks in Britain's rivers. They say that other species are likely to follow.

David Wembridge, who led the Living with Mammals survey, said: "The return of otters to urban waterways is an indicator of the improvement in water quality in Britain's towns and cities. They are probably following the fish populations as they return to rivers.

"Otters can be very bold and hunt in fairly noisy environments. Their presence in the built environment puts conservation firmly in an urban context."

At first glance, towns and cities would seem to be far from an ideal habitat for a shy and solitary species such as the otter. The mainly-nocturnal mammals typically set up their dens in natural river bank hollows or reed beds in marsh lands.

But otters – part of the mustelid family of mammals, which also includes badgers and weasels – have also been known to occupy man-made structures beside rivers if they provide enough shelter and protection.

They need clean water and large quantities of fish to survive, while other successful urban species such as foxes have flourished on the waste that human city-dwellers discard onto the streets.

Otters were widespread throughout the UK until the 1950s, when their populations began to crash, largely because of the use of organochlorine pesticides which poisoned the fish and the otters. By the 1970s, otters had been wiped out in most of England.

A ban on the pesticides and a national clean up of waterways, which has resulted in Britain's rivers and canals being in their cleanest state since the start of the Industrial Revolution, has seen otters return to many parts of the countryside.

The Living with Mammals report, which will be published next month, confirms evidence of otters in eight out of the 700 urban locations surveyed – defined as sites within 200 metres of people's homes – including five urban gardens.

The survey, which is conducted every spring, will also reveal a further fall in urban hedgehog numbers, which have been in steady decline for the past six years.

Mr Wembridge said: "Urban gardens have the potential to be ideal habitats for hedgehogs as they can provide the shelter and invertebrate food they require, but their decline in gardens seems to match the fall in numbers elsewhere in the countryside.

"It is perhaps a reflection of the changes in the way gardens are used and looked after. Paving over gardens removes their opportunity to forage for food and the long grass they prefer is also often attacked by strimmers which can lead to casualties."

Sightings of rats and mice have also increased dramatically in urban areas, perhaps due to last year's mild winter.

Tony Whitbread, from the Wildlife Trusts, said that despite the decline in hedgehogs, the presence of otters in Britain's towns and cities was an encouraging sign.

Otters are known to compete against foreign species such as mink that have been devastating populations of small native mammals such as the water vole, which has declined to a critical level.

He said: "Otters are very adaptive creatures, so they are more than capable of living in urban areas. It is perhaps a reflection of the good interconnected network of waterways that now exist.

"They are such a good barometer species of the health of a habitat, as they need clean water. If water is good enough for otters then it is probably good enough for us to drink. It certainly shows there is hope for other native species."

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Crash in trash creates mountains of unwanted recyclables in US

By Philip Sherwell in New York

Rubbish: Crash in trash creates mountain of unwanted recyclables
Financial crisis is rubbish for trash Photo: EDDIE MULHOLLAND

Mountains of used plastics, paper, metals and cardboard are piling up in the warehouses and yards of recycling companies across the US. Some contractors are negotiating to rent old military hangars and abandoned railway depots because they have run out of storage space for the glut of suddenly unwanted rubbish.

The collapse in the recycling market is a direct by-product of the financial crisis, as demand has slumped for material to be converted into everything from boxes for electronics to car parts and house fittings.

Householders have long been able to feel virtuous about their impact on the environment by sorting out their rubbish each week. But now the great trash market crash has even raised the environmentally alarming spectre that some waste intended for recycling may end up in landfills.

"The crash is all the more dramatic because as recently as mid-October the prices for recyclables stood at record highs," said Bruce Parker, president of the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).

Newsprint is now fetching less than $60 (£40) a ton, down from $160; corrugated boxing has slumped from $50 a ton to $10; while tin fetches $5 a pound compared to about $25.

Other materials are performing even worse, Mr Parker said. His members are now having to pay for the removal of low-grade mixed paper that two months ago was bringing in $120 a ton. "And plastics, you cannot even give them away," he added with a sigh.

The previous surge in prices had largely been driven by soaring demand from China and India. The emerging economic powerhouses were swallowing up rubbish as soon Americans were discarding it - often to turn into goods and packing that were then sold back to the US.

But the demand from Asia has now collapsed as the economic crisis has spread around the globe. "We truly live in a global economy where what happens at one end of the earth directly affects business at the other end," said Mr Parker.

The impact is devastating commercially - and not just for recycling businesses. Already confronting crippling budget shortfalls, local and state authorities have now seen a lucrative source of income dry up as recycling centres are no longer paying for their rubbish.

Some towns have even suspended their recycling operations, although in much of the country those programmes are required by law.

Residents in West Virginia's Kanawha county, which includes the state capital Charleston, have been told to stockpile plastics and metals, the materials worst hit by the crash, as they will no longer be collected. Small towns with tight budgets are particularly badly affected – Frackville in Pennsylvania has recently suspended its recycling programme.

The collapse has even hit the nation's most prestigious academic institutions. Harvard University used to receive $10 a ton for mixed recyclables from a nearby centre, but last month was told that it would have to start paying $20 a ton to send students' discarded newspapers and empty bottles there.

"I have been in the recycling business for 30 years and never seen a time as bad as this," said Johnny Gold, senior vice-president of the Newark Group, one of America's biggest recycling companies.

"It's a combination of the economic collapse and Chinese over-capacity.

"Our industry is a textbook case of supply and demand. We sell our product to paper mills that make boxes to supply companies making goods and if those goods are not selling, then they don't need the boxes and they don't buy our product."

Mr Parker believes that the market may not bounce back until late 2010 - and by then the mountains of unwanted rubbish would have turned into major mountain ranges. The NSWMA argues that to handle the crisis, the US will have to step up investment in its own recycling mills to fill the gap left by Asia and that contractors may have to impose recycling surcharges.

"It may cost communities more in the meantime but from an environmental point of views, the savings in terms of reducing greenhouse emissions and other benefits are still much greater," he said.

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Getting Rid of Ticks Takes Time and Money

By PAT WIEDENKELLER

Doug Kuntz for The New York Times

LURES When deer eat the corn in four-poster devices, above, they are dosed with insecticide.

SHELTER ISLAND

BY all accounts, this was a good first year for a three-year study meant to eradicate ticks on Shelter Island, one of the worst spots for tick-borne diseases in New York.

Cornell University scientists scoured the woods and fields collecting tick nymphs. They tagged dozens of tick-bearing deer and hung bulky G.P.S. units around some of their necks, to track their every move. And last week they were packing away the 58 four-poster feeding stations that had been set up all over the island to lure deer and dose their necks and faces with pesticide.

The researchers will haul them out again in March for the study’s second year, when they expect to see tick numbers start to fall off, and maybe plummet.

If the experimental program succeeds, advocates say, it could all but wipe out the black-legged and lone star ticks that have besieged Shelter Islanders for years, spreading Lyme disease and other serious maladies.

But the project is far from out of the woods.

The $1.2 million effort, paid for initially with money from the state, Suffolk County and the Town of Shelter Island, as well as local committees and foundations, could run short of money by next summer, government officials and community advocates said. That could cripple the project, advocates said, because it was designed to be a three-year program of data collection and pesticide treatment tied to fatally disrupting the life cycle of the tick.

“There’s one goal in this project: to see it through to completion,” said Vincent Palmer, a pesticide control specialist with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, who also sat on the Suffolk County Tick Management Task Force set up by County Executive Steve Levy in 2006.

Assemblyman Marc Alessi, who, with State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, helped secure $100,000 for the project this year, said he would not count on state financing in the coming year of budget slashing. Mr. Levy, who this year released $155,000 in start-up funds approved in 2007 by the County Legislature, wants to see some results before doing it again, said Ben Zwirn, a deputy county executive.

And Rae Lapides, who heads the nonprofit Shelter Island Deer and Tick Management Foundation and raised $125,000 from the community last year, said she was worried that the fat days may be over.

“Usually we can do end-of-the-year fund-raising and people get bonuses and can get a tax write-off,” she said. “This year we may not be seeing that.”

The town began the four-poster project after securing permission from the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Deer at the feeding stations, which are baited with corn, rub their heads against rollers soaked with a tickicide, permethrin, as they eat. The state bans the four-poster devices, in part because it prohibits the feeding of wild deer, which encourages them to congregate and can spread diseases among herds.

Advocates who fought for years for the four-poster hope it can be a long-term solution to soaring tick populations on the East End, where a majority of Long Island’s Lyme disease cases are reported. Last year, 234 cases of Lyme were reported in Suffolk, up from 190 the year before, said Beth Goldberg, a State Health Department spokeswoman.

The study must be conducted over three to four consecutive years — linked to the tick’s life cycle — to produce usable results, said Dale Moyer, who supervises the study for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

Mr. Palmer, the state pesticide control specialist, said: “It’s not like you can suspend the study for one year. If the third year were not to go forward, that would be a waste of the years of study.”

Financing is built into next year’s budget for the Town of Shelter Island, to pay for corn bait, the contract for the professional application of the permethrin, maintenance and labor, said James Dougherty, the town supervisor, adding that he had recently persuaded the East End Supervisors Foundation to donate $20,000 for next year.

Beyond that, he was not sure. “People support the program,” he said, “but they’re really strapped.”

In the meantime, Ms. Lapides said she would be reaching out to the Shelter Island community for new donations. Next month, she said, the foundation will turn over the $75,000 it has to the Cornell study.

“After that,” she said, “we beg, borrow and steal.”

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New York City Grew, but Traffic Didn’t

By WILLIAM NEUMAN

As the city’s economy soared and its population grew from 2003 through 2007, something unusual was happening on the streets and in the subway tunnels.


Monica Almeida/The New York Times

SHIFTING PATTERNS Subway ridership increased, but congestion on arteries like the George Washington Bridge held steady or dropped slightly.

Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Ridership on the city’s sprawling public transportation system increased about 9 percent from 2003 to 2007.

Christian Hansen for The New York Times

Relaxing upstairs on a double-decker bus, which got a trial run in September. The transportation authority hopes the new buses can save fuel while moving more people.

All those tens of thousands of new jobs and residents meant that more people were moving around the city, going to work, going shopping, visiting friends. And yet, according to a new city study, the volume of traffic on the streets and highways remained largely unchanged, in fact declining slightly. Instead, virtually the entire increase in New Yorkers’ means of transportation during those robust years occurred in mass transit, with a surge in subway, bus and commuter rail riders.

“What you see is that for the first time since at least World War II, all of the growth in travel in the city has been absorbed by non-auto modes, primarily by mass transit,” said Bruce Schaller, New York’s deputy transportation commissioner for planning and sustainability, who wrote the study, which is to be released on Monday.

“Now we’ve really turned a corner in the city in that all of the growth in travel over the last four years has been absorbed by mass transit and so, in terms of the city’s sustainability goals, this is very encouraging to see.”

The city’s sprawling public transportation system was able to handle such a surge because of vast improvements in service in recent years, Mr. Schaller said, as well as the advent of the MetroCard, which made using the system more efficient. A steep drop in crime made people more willing to use the system, and the construction of housing in areas well served by subways also brought in many more riders.

But now the system faces its worst financial crisis in more than two decades, with officials proposing raising fares and cutting service, measures which threaten to unravel the system’s gains and hamper its ability to carry riders when the economy recovers.

“The increase in transit has paced the economy,” said William M. Wheeler, the director of planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who was not involved in the study but reviewed some of the data at the request of The New York Times. “They’re going hand in hand. I think it’s pretty compelling.”

“I guess now the question is what’s in the future,” Mr. Wheeler said. “The challenge is going to be, can you have an adequately funded transit system to be there for that economic growth.”

The study is the first analysis to take an overall look at traffic and transit patterns in New York during the boom years from 2003 through 2007, when, according to the report, the city added more than 200,000 jobs and its population increased by more than 130,000.

Of course, the outlook today is very different, with the city shedding jobs and sliding into a deep recession as the transportation system grapples with its own financial free fall. The authority’s next budget, facing a $1.2 billion deficit, is expected to be grim.

The authority is hoping for a bailout from Albany early next year along the lines of a rescue plan proposed by a special state commission. The plan would create a new payroll tax in an effort to halt the service cuts and limit the amount of the fare increase.

“We’re in a recession at the moment, but when we come out of that I think we’re well positioned to continue in the direction of sustainable growth, provided that the support is given to transit,” Mr. Schaller said.

The trend of stable traffic volumes and rising transit during the recent economic boom was in contrast to previous periods of growth, Mr. Schaller said. In the 1990s, as the economy expanded, both street traffic and transit ridership grew, though the increase in transit was greater.

In earlier decades, however, there was a general trend toward increased vehicle traffic while, for many years, transit ridership declined.

Mr. Schaller said that vehicle trips citywide peaked in 1999 and then leveled off, with a dip in 2001 as a result of the terror attack on the World Trade Center. The overall trend has been largely stable traffic volumes across the city from 1999 through 2007.

In contrast, during the years when the economy was most buoyant, from 2003 to 2007, transit ridership soared, increasing about 9 percent during those years, according to the city study.

The difference is even greater when the focus is on the core commercial district of Manhattan, south of 60th Street. From 2003 to 2007, the study found, traffic entering that area fell by 3 percent. During the same period, transit ridership into the same zone rose 12 percent.

However, the most marked change occurred in the level of travel in Manhattan that crossed 60th Street heading south. Traffic from this direction was down 8 percent, even as vehicle traffic from Brooklyn and New Jersey was largely unchanged. At the same time, transit and commuter rail ridership going south and crossing 60th Street increased.

“It’s the one place in the city that we see evidence of people getting out of their cars or taxis and getting into transit,” Mr. Schaller said. “Elsewhere what we see is the growth in travel being absorbed by the transit system, but 60th Street is the one place that we see traffic declining and transit increasing.”

He said the area was particularly well suited to such a shift. “You have very rich transit service and very heavy traffic congestion,” he said.

The flattening of overall traffic volumes, with an actual decline in Manhattan’s main business district, raises questions about the need for congestion pricing, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s failed plan to charge drivers to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan.

But Mr. Schaller, whose department was deeply involved in supporting congestion pricing, said that the data did not undermine the basic principles behind the plan, since traffic levels remain well above what they were a decade or two ago.

“People can make a judgment as to whether it’s acceptable that the traffic is as heavy as it is,” he said. “If it’s stable, I think that’s good news. It doesn’t mean that it’s stable at an acceptable level.”

The study was produced in response to a city law passed in the summer requiring the Transportation Department to make an annual report on traffic and transportation trends. It is based on data that has long been collected by a variety of public agencies, including counts of vehicles made every fall at key points throughout the city. Those tallies tend to count individual vehicles multiple times as they move around the city, so they do not produce an accurate picture of the actual number of vehicles on city streets, but they do allow useful year-to-year comparisons of traffic volumes.

The Transportation Department now plans to expand its data collection to more areas of the city to give the agency a more detailed understanding of traffic trends.

It will also start analyzing data from taxis equipped with G.P.S., which will help the city to have a better understanding of vehicle speeds in Manhattan.

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Blowing Smoke

By Daniel Stone

SHIPPINGPORT, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Smoke and steam vapor pour out of the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant over a nearby residential area on September 10, 2008 in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. The 2460 MW coal-fired  plant in western Pennsylvania is one of the 12 biggest carbon dioxide polluting power plants in the U.S. emitting 17.4 million tons annually.
Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

In the elusive search for the reliable energy source of the future, the prospect of clean coal is creating a lot of buzz. But while the concept—to scrub coal clean before burning, then capture and store harmful gases deep underground—may seem promising, a coalition of environment and climate groups argue in a new media campaign that the technology simply doesn't exist.

The Alliance for Climate Protection and several other prominent organizations—including the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense Council—launched a multipronged campaign to "debrand" the clean part of clean coal, pointing out that there's no conclusive evidence to confirm the entire process would work the way it's being marketed. In the campaign's TV ad, a technician sarcastically enters the door of a clean coal production plant, only to find there's nothing on the other side. "Take a good long look," he says, standing in a barren desert, "this is today's clean coal technology."

The campaign was designed to combat the well-funded coal industry, which formed a trade association in April to promote the idea of clean coal. Joe Lucas, a vice president for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, says that the technology does exist, although it's still in early development stages. "With the current research being done, we think we can get the technology up and running within 10 to 15 years," he says. Activists like Brian Hardwick, chief spokesman for the Alliance for Climate Protection, aren't so sure. Hardwick spoke to NEWSWEEK's Daniel Stone about why the idea of clean coal shouldn't be considered a solution.

Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Why delegitimize clean coal?
Brian Hardwick:
We want people to know that right now, there is no such thing as clean coal. The burning of coal for electricity emits more than one third of global warming pollution, more than cars and trucks combined. Until we have technology that can capture and safely store all the global-warming pollution, it's not clean. We ought not think that we can stake literally the survival of our planet on something that currently is just an illusion.

Where is the technology currently?
There's not a single coal plant in American that captures and stores harmful emissions. In fact, there's not a single demonstration project right now in the United States to try to make that happen. No homes and no business are powered by clean coal. If there's promise and there's possibility, then of course, then we should invest in research and development to really get serious about figuring this out right now. But for now, burning coal isn't part of a solution, it's adding to the problem.

What kind of funding and research will it take to get the technology where it needs to be to satisfy the environmental community?
The scientists seem to agree that if we were to really get to work on making this happen, it could be ready by 2030. It's hard to bring it online when there's not a single demonstration project on it in the United States right now. Instead, that's a large marketing campaign from the coal industry in place of it.

So is your aim to invest in more research to make coal clean, or to disqualify it as a fuel source and focus on only renewables?
We have a whole agenda called Repower America, which is to produce 100 percent of our electricity on clean, renewable, noncarbon emitting sources within 10 years. We believe that a bulk of that is going to come from a massive increase in investment in renewables and a new smart energy grid to move the electricity across the country and through investments in new efficiency standards. Coal can be part of that, but only if this technology can be proven and put in place. For now, we can't build another dirty coal plant that doesn't capture its emissions.

Who should be leading this research, the government or industry?
It's a perfectly fine role for the federal government to invest some money in this technology to see if it's possible and try to bring it online, but the industry itself also needs to step up if it truly wants to be part of the energy future.

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Al Gore: World cares more about Paris Hilton than saving the planet

By Louise Gray and Bruno Waterfield

Al Gore gave a rousing speech at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland
Al Gore gave a rousing speech at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland Photo: EPA

As key international talks on climate change drew to a close in Poland with little progress on a global deal and anger against the EU for failing to lead the way on targets, the Nobel Prize winner attempted to get efforts to stop global warming back on track.

In a rousing speech to hundreds of delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, the former US Presidential candidate echoed President-elect Barack Obama in calling for change.

"It is wrong for this generation to destroy the habitability of the planet and ruin the prospects of every future generation. That realisation must carry us forward. Our children have a right to hold us to a high standard when the future of all human kind is hanging in the balance."

The star of the Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth called for global targets to cut carbon emissions to be toughened to take account of new scientific evidence that claims the world is warming faster than expected. He called for world leaders to meet regularly over the next year until they achieve a binding agreement on climate change.

Mr Gore said the celebrity-obsessed world had lost its way.

"The political systems of the developed world have become sclerotic. We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focus clearly and unblinkingly on this crisis rather than spending so much time on OJ Simpson, Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith."

But he was optimistic that Obama's idea of a new "green deal" would be copied all around the world.

"Once he [Obama] is president, the US will engage vigorously in theses negotiations and help to lead the world towards a new era on global co-operation on climate change."

It could be the only hope for a deal on climate change after the EU watered down its target to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 according to environmental groups.

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, hailed the "historic" agreement that will force the EU to cut emissions but protects the interests of different countries by giving allowances for important industries like coal and aluminium.

However environmental groups said it was a failure for letting these highly polluting industries continue and because two thirds of the cuts could be made by buying carbon "offsets" from abroad.

Traditionally the EU has always led the way on climate change and the perceived fudging of targets, cast doubt over the conference in Poland.

The talks mark the half way point between Bali, where the world agreed that a deal needs to be made on climate change, and Copenhagen, when an agreement must be made to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

But after two weeks of meetings the world has yet to decide the targets needed to keep temperature rises below two degrees centigrade.

Although there has been some progress on setting up an adaptation fund to help poorer nations cope with climate change and halting deforestation, there was also disappointment on the failure to commit more cash to the huge investment needed in new low carbon technologies and other measures to help slow global warming.

Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said progress had been made where possible and was hopeful of the US coming on board.

"The world has to raise its game if it is to reach an agreement next year, there is no question we have to up the pace, " he said. "[But] I am optimistic."

However the Tearfund was so disappointed the charity said the £23 million spent organising the conference could have been better spent going directly to poorer nations.

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14 Century-Old Environmental Predictions: Where Are They Now?