Bits and Pieces: Synthetic Ivory and Other News

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A Texas chemist discovered a way to make virtually indistinguishable synthetic ivory, which is good news for elephants.
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A Texas chemist discovered a way to make virtually indistinguishable synthetic ivory, which is good news for elephants.

Here’s a quick round-up of the latest environmental news…

Synthetic Ivory Means Good News for Elephants

Texas chemist Orlando Battista has discovered a way to make synthetic ivory. By mixing microcrystalline cellulose, calcium phosphate, and a special gelatin and then letting the concoction dry at room temperature for 10 weeks, the scientist produces a material that he claims is virtually indistinguishable from real ivory and “has essentially the same chemical composition as elephant tusk.” (No word yet on whether Battista has any tower-building plans.)

The Pesticide Action Network Seeks Awareness

Each year 750,000 people are poisoned by pesticides. Of these, 14,000 die. Studies indicate that the rate of poisonings in the Third World is 13 times as great as in the U.S.

Following the dictum “think globally, act locally,” the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is coordinating local organizing efforts around the world to try to limit the unnecessary spread of these dangerous chemicals. One of the primary goals of the group is to “end the double standard in the worldwide pesticide trade which allows pesticides that are banned in developed countries (because of their documented health hazards) to be routinely exported to the Third World.”

PAN’s international “Dirty Dozen” campaign seeks to end the use of 12 extremely hazardous pesticides wherever their safe use cannot be ensured. The organization is using techniques tailored to each individual country’s culture to spread the message. In Indonesia, farmers are traveling from hamlet to hamlet to tell others about natural methods of pest control. Brazilian groups have staged street theater, dressing up as the offensive pesticides to warn local farmers about the lethal potential of the poisons. And in Britain, posters and billboards proclaim, “These days there are enough pesticides in vegetables to turn you into one!”

Sheep Help With Malaysian Rubber Crops

Sheep may be the solution to the Malaysian rubber industry’s weed woes. More than half of the country’s cultivated land is planted in rubber trees, and the current cost of controlling the weeds that grow beneath those trees is between $100 and $150 million a year, with a large portion of that going for chemical herbicides. But Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia) sends the encouraging news that, in an ongoing experiment, sheep — kept under the trees with solar-powered electric fences — have been doing a commendable job of devouring the high-protein weeds and saving the rubber-growers money, too.

What Was Old is New: Lippis Dulcis 

If the new artificial sweeteners leave a bad taste in your mouth, perhaps you should do as the Aztecs did: Try Lippis dulcis. International Wildlife reports that this recently rediscovered plant — a native of the American tropics — has leaves and flowers said to be 1,000 times sweeter than sucrose! It’s nontoxic and has no known side effects and few calories. Two companies are currently looking into its possible use in toothpaste and mouthwash.

The State of Self-Employment

More and more Americans are working as their own bosses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nine million of us were self-employed in 1984 — that’s up 33 percent since 1970.

Children and Handguns

One child a day dies from a handgun accident, and guns are now the fifth leading cause of death in children. Children account for more than 30 percent of firearm deaths in the home. These grim statistics were presented last fall at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, and clearly point out the need to educate America’s adults in better handgun safety and storage.

The Myth of Yuppies

The world according to Madison Avenue has the entire baby boom generation made up of Yuppies — young urban professionals. But, as a recent article in Money magazine points out, in the real world, of the 55 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 39, only 12 million have professional or managerial jobs; of these, only 3.8 million live in urban areas. Thus, 93 percent of the country’s young are disqualified from Yuppiedom (a banishment which is probably just fine with most of them).

The sad truth behind the media myth can be seen in these Census Bureau statistics. Although the real median income for all American adults dropped 3 percent from 1979 to 1983, that of 25- to 34-year-olds dropped 13 percent in the same time period . . . nothing upwardly mobile about that.

Moreover, it doesn’t look as if that trend will take a turn for the better anytime soon. A story in The New York Times reports that the number of Americans under the age of 18 who live in proverty has risen from 14.3 percent 15 years ago to 22 percent today. The article claims this new class of poor Americans is “younger, less educated, and likely to give birth sooner than recent generations of the poor.” Little wonder it called their prospects of advancing “dim.”

Possible Cure to Stop Hydrilla Infestation

About a year and a half ago, we reported the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s warning that hydrilla — a weed native to central Africa — was infesting rivers, lakes, and streams from Southern California to Maryland. The USDA now thinks that it’s possible to control hydrilla by exposing it to low-level lighting for one hour at night. The light interrupts the critical periods of darkness that the plant requires in order to form tubers and reproduce. The technique is currently being tested in the Potomac River.