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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

:: Untaxed fuel gives UK airlines £9 billion a year subsidy ::
A report by the UK government's Environmental Audit Committee has said that to reduce the environmental impact of air transport an emissions charge should replace Air Passenger Duty and Value Added Tax should be added to the cost of domestic flights.

Airlines currently pay no tax on aviation fuel - whereas 80% of the price motorists pay for their fuel goes into the Chancellor of the Exchequer...

Compared to road transport, the absence of a fuel tax + VAT on receipts means that the aviation industry currently receives subsidies in excess of £9bn and has little incentive to drastically reduce it's CO2 emissions...

In the UK, airline passengers are anticipated to increase from 180 million now to 500 million by 2030. This growth in passengers will result in more airports and runways being built, undo emission cuts in other energy intensive sectors of the economy, and may incur considerable economic costs as a result of exacerbating climate change...

Airlines would understandably prefer to be left to trade their emissions on the international market or to plant trees in order to temporarily soak up their carbon... whereas the Council for the Protection of Rural England has welcomed the conclusions of this report as a breath of fresh air and said that the forth-coming Air Transport White Paper will be a key test of the government's commitment to the environment...

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

:: WHO aims to eradicate Polio by 2005 ::
Before the World Health Organisation launched it's Polio Eradication programme in 1988 there were 350,000 cases in 125 countries each year...

Last year there were 235 cases worldwide, mostly in India, Nigeria + Pakistan.

Plans are now in place to immunize 175 million children in these three countries by the end of the year, and to totally eradicate Polio by 2005.

Although "doable" the WHO is now seeking $220 million in order to ensure that this work goes ahead....

It is also requesting that countries destroy all their non-essential stocks of Polio and register any laboratory stock they intend to keep for research in order to help prevent even one case of this paralysing disease threatening the world again.

Most of the $3 billion so far spent on this initiative has come from W.H.O., UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Rotary International and other partners...

Monday, July 28, 2003

:: Sir John Houghton :"Climate change is a WMD" ::
Sir John Houghton a former head of the UK's Meteorological Office and co-chair of the International Panel on Climate Change has said that climate change kills more people than terrorism and poses at least as great a threat to human security as "chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism".

Although Sir John acknowledges Tony Blair has used positive sounding rhetoric, he charges Mr. Blair of failing to match words with action, and says that despite the announcement of plans for new off-shore wind farms the UK's renewable energy capacity currently lags behind those of other European nations.

In 2000, a Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that the UK make greenhouse gas emissions cuts of 60% by 2050.

Sir John says that this should be achieved using a "mechanism for negotiating each country's emission target" and a globally implemented plan known as "contraction and convergence".

Contraction and convergence (a process which aims for reductions in the concentration of C02 in the atmosphere and equitable per capita entitlements to emit CO2) has the advantage that it would enable the following principles to be implemented:

The precautionary principle

The principle of sustainable development

The polluter-pays principle and

The principle of equity.

Although the US represents 1/20th of the world's population it emits 25% of the world's CO2 and Sir John states that the failure to tackle the problem of climate change, and instead increase emissions by 14% since 1990, represents an "enormous abdication of leadership"... made worse by an anticipated increase of a further 12% over the next decade.

In conclusion, Sir John calls on Tony Blair to exhibit greater leadership on this issue and to set about organising a "coalition of the willing" if he cannot persuade President Bush that climate change represents a weapon of mass destruction which requires urgent action.

See the full article by Sir John in today's Guardian here.

:: Mines Advisory Group work in Iraq ::
The Mines Advisory Group has produced an informative photo gallery outlining their work cleaning up unexploded bombs + landmines in Iraq.

Interesting facts include:

The majority of Iraqi minefields were laid 20 years ago during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988.

Recorded casualties from landmines and unexploded bomb-related accidents since 1991 come to 7,427 injuries and 3,699 deaths (these figures were released in Jan 2003).

Figures on how many mines there are in Iraq vary between 8 to 12 million. This does not include unexploded mortars, shells, grenades and other debris of war.

Only Afghanistan + Angola are more blighted by landmines.

See here for an update released in June 2003.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

One of Earth-Info.Net's heroes is a man called Prof. Norman Myers...

Prof. Myers has made a huge impact in nature conservation and been responsible, along with Conservation International, for $500 million being directed towards 25 global biodiversity hotspots which merit urgent protection and have been identified on the basis of their species richness, endemism (uniqueness) + threat of destruction .

Prior to this method of priority setting being proposed + adopted, conservation effort had tended to be allocated in a rather ad hoc fashion according to where was available, subjectively selected or uncontroversial...

Prof Myers' books have also been very influential, including The Sinking Ark: A New Look at the Problem of Disappearing Species, Perverse Subsidies: How Misused Tax Dollars Harm the Environment and the Economy + The Gaia Atlas of Planet Management... all of which have changed the way in which fundamental problems are viewed and tackled.

Excellent and thought provoking though all of these books are, Earth-Info.Net feels his photographs of African wildlife, taken in the 1950s, also deserve a mention... in particular this one of a leopard climbing a tree. Enjoy!

P.S. Monday 28th July: Prof. Myers + Sir Crispin Tickell (a former UK ambassador to the UN) have today written a comment piece for the Financial Times outlining why environmentalists and economists should find common cause in dismantling costly, outdated + damaging perverse subisides. Such subsidies encourage over production in the agricultural sector, the over-fishing of depleted fisheries, the burning of excessive fossil fuels + slow sectoral reform and innovation.

:: Spain requests extradition of 45 Argentinians ::
A Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, has called for the extradition of 45 Argentinians, wanted in connection to crimes commited against Spaniards during the military's rule from 1976-1983.

During this period a "dirty war" was conducted against opponents which is thought to have resulted in 9,000 to 30,000 people "disappearing".

For the past 20 years civilian governments in Argentina have been extremely wary of upsetting the military, and many high ranking officials were granted amnesties that have so far prevented their prosecution.

It will therefore be of interest whether the political will now exists to permit these extraditions to go ahead...

Thursday, July 24, 2003

:: Kenya rewarded for fighting corruption ::
The World Bank has agreed to restart lending money to Kenya (having stopped in 2001) in acknowledgement of the new government's efforts to tackle run-away corruption, thought to cost the country $1 billion a year.

So far the new adminstration has made a good start with this huge task having appointed the widely-respected director of Transparency International's chapter in Kenya, John Githongo, to lead the fight against corruption, and ensured that funds are available to offer every child a free primary school education...

James Wolfensohn the President of the World Bank has however urged the government to make as much progress as possible while it still enjoys widespread support...

:: Nelson Mandela offers some words of wisdom ::
As part of their Youth + HIV/AIDS campaign, OneWorld AIDS Radio are featuring a programme produced + broadcast around the world by MTV in celebration of Nelson's Mandela's 85th birthday which also coincides with the 2003 debut of the "Staying Alive" HIV/AIDS awareness campaign.

The programme takes an historial view of Mr Mandela's life and profiles four young people: Henry, Min Zin, Jumana + Guy who travel to Johannesburg to seek his advice on their struggles against HIV/AIDS, political exile + war.

The programme audio is broken down here into the following 7 sections, for ease of access. Follow the links to the audio. (you can also log onto the OneWorld AIDS site for these links, in the Audio and Campaigns sections!):

* 1 Henry's Story (part 1)
Henry is campaigning against the spread of HIV/AIDS in Uganda but is facing testing conditions which make his work extremely difficult.

* 2 Henry's Story (part 2)

* 3 Min Zin's Story (part 1):
Min Zin is living in political exile in Thailand and wants to draw on the experiences of Nelson Mandela to help him in his struggle for democracy back home in Burma...

* 4 Min Zin's Story (part 2)

* 5 Min Zin's Story (part 3)

* 6 Jumana + Guy (part 1)
Jumana + Guy live on opposite sides of the Arab- Israeli conflict and are hoping that Nelson Mandela will advise them in their search for peace...

* 7 Jumana + Guy (part 2)

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

:: Hydrogen powered buses coming to London ::
Transport for London, the largest bus company in Europe, has agreed to try out three hydrogen powered buses later this year...

Hydrogen powered vehicles are a good idea because they emit no pollution through their exhaust pipe, only water, so can contribute to cleaner air in cities.

When the hydrogen is produced without the use of fossil fuels (i.e. using solar or wind energy) these vehicles also have the potential to help humans to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

This is desirable because human-induced CO2 emissions are thought to be strengthening a natural process known as the greenhouse house effect, which traps heat in the earth's atmosphere, and may eventually result in disastrous worldwide climate change (see graph) unless severe emission cuts are made.

See the Tyndall Centre and Hadley Centre for more information about climate change. Also see the Living with the Sea website which discusses how climate change is likely to effect the UK coastline over the next 100 years...

:: World Health Organisation has a new leader ::
A TB expert from South Korea, Jong-Wook Lee, has been elected the new Director General of the World Health Organisation.

Dr. Lee has said that he will make tackling the AIDS pandemic + decentralising decision-making his priorities.

The retiring DG, Gro Harlem Brundtland (a former primer minister of Norway) was responsible for transforming the WHO into one of the most effective agencies of the UN and elevating the profile of neglected diseases such as Malaria, Polio + TB.

In 1987, Gro Harlem also authored a hugely influential report called Our Common Future which defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Her most recent achievements have included ensuring unprecendent co-operation + international action in order to eliminate the threat of SARS and negotiating an anti-smoking pact which requires countries to ban or impose tough restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship + promotion within 5 years! Pretty impressive stuff and clearly a very tough act to follow!

Earth-Info.Net sincerely hopes that the relevance + effectiveness of the WHO can be maintained, and that Peter Piot the head of UNAIDS (who lost the election for the top job) will stay within the UN.

Friday, July 18, 2003

:: Ireland to introduce a chewing gum tax ::
Ireland continues to blaze a trail with it's polluter pays tax policy being extended from plastic bags to include chewing gum, polystyrene fast food containers + cash machine receipts...

Earth-Info.Net notes that Wrigley's chewing gum say this tax unfairly penalises people who don't make a habit a discarding gum irresponsibly, which is true, but also notes that council's are having to spend a disproportionate amount of their funds (£50,000 in Brighton alone) dealing with a problem caused by a specific group of consumers.

Interestingly, plastic bag use has dropped by 90% in Ireland and environmentally responsible alternatives such as biodegradable, tapioca + jute bags are increasingly being offered to shoppers.

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem... British consumers get through 3,000,000,000 packets of chewing gum + 20,000,000,000 plastic bags each year.

Earth-Info.Net therefore hopes that similar taxes will be included in the UK's forthcoming anti-litter bill.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

:: Blair urges US to support Kyoto + to open up trade ::
Addressing a joint session of the US Congress + Senate the UK's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, urged to the United States to use science + technology to tackle the threat posed by climate change and to aim to exceed the requirements of Kyoto.

He also said that free markets generate prosperity, and that the US should do all it can to open up it's domestic market to produce from poor nations in order to encourage sustainable development, reduce global poverty + fight terrorism. ..

:: New partnership to monitor UK mammals ::
A new collaborative project called the Tracking Mammals Partnership, which brings together 23 organisations, has been set up in order to assess + monitor UK mammal populations in a systematic + co-ordinated fashion.

The emphasis will be on sharing information + expertise, organising volunteers, involving + informing the public and providing information about mammals equivalent to the BTO's bird surveys.

This information will be invaluable when making land management + conservation decisions which might impact on mammal populations and will enable the UK to fulfill the requirements of the Habitats + Species Directive and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Earth-Info.Net is a little disappointed that the press release for this extremely welcome initiative places so much emphasis on the use of volunteers rather than funding the skilled personnel needed to conduct mammal surveys rigorously, efficiently + continuously over many years, and hopes that this will follow in due course once this partnership has become more established.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

:: FoE criticise Tesco over hardwood furniture ::
Yesterday, Friends of the Earth sent round a press release alleging that UK supermarket Tesco, a member of a group of companies that have committed to buying timber products that are independently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as legal and sustainable, is selling garden furniture made from illegally sourced Indonesian timber.

On reading this Earth-Info.Net felt sufficiently outraged to write to Tesco's customer service department to ask for their reassurance that this was not the case... ;)

Amazingly, I got a reply this morning saying that they preferred to use FSC certified hardwood wherever possible... so I decided to send the following letter and see what happpened...

Dear Gordon,

Thank you for your prompt and detailed reply.

I am aware that it may be difficult to ensure that all of your goods come from sources working to FSC standards and commend you for working to improve the sustainability of your supply chain.

Given the severe extinction threat to the flora and fauna of Indonesia and the problems associated with guaranteeing Indonesian supplies I still hope that you will consider using only supplies of hardwood that have been fully FSC certified.

The Orangutan Foundation have said that the Orangutans of Kalimantan, Borneo face extinction within 10 years, and Indonesia is one of the WWF's 25 biodiversity hotspots (containing high numbers of unique and severely threatened species) so prompt + effective action by companies such as your own is urgently needed and will be widely applauded.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Prescott


I've just had my second reply... and it sounds as though they've had enough letters sent in to prompt at least a review of their current policy.

So hopefully moves are afoot!

Well done to Friends of the Earth for bringing this to everyone's attention.

P.S. Why not visit Tesco's contact page if you would also like to write... you never know your letter could make all the difference!

:: Free anti-TB drugs + better treatment needed ::
The World Health Organisation is calling for free anti-tuberculosis drugs + quality care to be made widely available to people living with HIV, along with renewed efforts to increase access to antiretrovirals in developing countries.

Currently, TB is the biggest killer of people with AIDS.

:: Earth-Info.Net is now searchable! ::
Following some tinkering with code it is now possible to use key words to search within Earth-Info.Net thanks to the Google box on the left...

The default is to search the entire www so if you want to give this a go please just remember to click on
search Earth-Info.Net!

Earth-Info.Net has a large and growing archive of stories, covering many different sustainable development + environmental issues, so I hope this search function will come in handy?

Please feel free to let me know how useful you find it...

Best wishes


Monday, July 14, 2003

:: Banana price war threatens workers + the environment ::
UK charity Bananalink has produced a fascinating summary of the social + environmental consequences of a price war Asda has sparked between UK supermarkets over the price of bananas.

Because supermarkets are such powerful buyers, and are not prepared to reduce their own profit margins, they are forcing their suppliers to make them more competitive...

This refusal to share price competition along the entire supply chain, can mean growers are forced to sell their produce at a loss, threaten the livelihoods of workers and the maintenance of environmentally sustainable farming practices.

All good reasons to buy fair trade produce + make sure that a fair price is paid to the person who grows your food!

:: UK makes huge investment in wind energy ::
The UK government is issuing a new round of licences for off-shore wind turbines.

These wind turbines will produce 5% of the UK's electricity and be built on the North West coast, the Wash + the Thames Estuary .

The government's Energy White Paper published earlier this year set a target for 10% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2010 so this announcement is an important step in the right direction.

Not surprisingly, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace + The British Wind Energy Association are all extremely pleased with this development, although wildlife experts and the Ministry of Defence have expressed concerns which still need to be addressed.

Visit the Ecotricity or National Wind Power websites if you would like to find out more about wind power.

Friday, July 11, 2003

:: Malaria, governance + Indonesia's political prisoners ::
* A new vaccine is being tried out as part of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

* The World Resources Inistitute (a well respected US think tank) has launched a major report in collaboration with the UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme + World Bank entitled A Guide to World Resources: Decisions for the Earth: Balance, Voice + Power.

It's chief recommendations are better governance + greater accountability in environmental decision making.

* In separate reports, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Indonesia and for the repeal of legislation used to prosecute and imprison activists engaged in peaceful political expression.

See here for the AI report + here for the HRW report.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

:: Rich nations are failing the world's poor ::
The latest Human Development Report has just been released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It says that if existing trends persist it will take some African countries until 2165 to achieve the Millennium Development Goals set by the world's leaders for 2015!

The BBC has produced a very good summary of the report which includes some shocking statistics about the amount of aid given by the EU to the average African ($8) and the amount given in subsidies by the EU to the average cow ($913)...

See here for Alex Kirby's summary...

:: South Korean mudflats + birds in danger ::
Birdlife International has condemned plans by South Korea's government to build a 33 km dyke in order to farm + flood exceptionally important coastal mudflats which qualify for protection under the Ramsar Convention.

If not stopped this project will threaten the survival of 8 endangered species, disrupt the migration of 2,000,000 birds (which cross this portion of east Asia each year) + the marine ecology of the Yellow Sea.

Watch a TVE report screened on BBC World here.

Via Alex Kirby at BBC News Online

Sunday, July 06, 2003

:: President Bush's trip to Africa ::
This article from the Economist does a good job of summarising the social problems + conflicts President Bush will be addressing during his forth coming trip to Africa.

President Bush has said that “It’s in our national interests that Africa become a prosperous place" and Earth-Info.Net is pleased to see him taking the time to visit Africa, and the US starting to engage with the long-term problems in
Liberia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Uganda + Sudan.

The cynics out there may (or may not!) be right when they mention the growing importance of West African oil to US national security and/or the interests of seed + pharmaceutical producers being behind this visit... we'll just have to see what happens.

P.S. Earth-Info.Net is still not convinced that US plans to spend $5 billion (out of $15 billion) on teaching abstinence from sex is the most effective means of fighting AIDS in Africa...

Job vacancy: Researcher / Data Coordinator :
Earth-Info.Net doesn't normally advertise jobs but this one's a cracker, with a great charity!

Check out the Business + Human Rights Resource Centre website for more details...

Researcher / Data Coordinator
9-month fixed-term contract
£22,500 per annum
Based in London
closing date: 23 July 2003

The Business + Human Rights Resource Centre, a new charity, is seeking a highly-motivated and results-oriented person with a good working knowledge of Spanish and/or French to fill the post of Researcher / Data Coordinator.

You will be responsible to the Director and work with him as a two-person team to further develop the organisation and its website (www.business-humanrights.org), recognised internationally as the leading information site on this subject.

You will be responsible for:
* Daily data entry on the website, including updating broken + outdated links
* Assisting with online research + data entry; coordinating Spanish and/or French online research + data entry
* Developing & maintaining an extensive database of contacts
* Handling administrative tasks including correspondence + record-keeping

Good luck!

Saturday, July 05, 2003

:: Syndicate this site (XML) ::
Earth-Info.Net now has a RSS syndication feed.

Happy aggregating!

:: More unexploded bomb info ::
As a follow up to an earlier posting about the Mines Advisory Group's report of unexploded bombs + landmines causing numerous civilian deaths + casualties in Iraq, Earth-Info.Net is trying to find out what institutions + protocols the US military has to clean up it's unexploded ordnance...

So far I have found out that the United States Army Environmental Center is responsible for ensuring that firing ranges within the US remain safe + cost-effective to use, although their links page doesn't appear to mention who is responsible for cleaning up overseas/post-conflict US munitions?

The UN's Humanitarian Information Centre in Iraq is more useful in this regard as it mentions the humanitarian assistance provided by the Regional Mine Action Center (RMAC) and summarises activities within Iraq's mine clearance sector...

If you are interested in finding out more about the issues surrounding unexploded ordnance Earth-Info.Net recommends the news summary produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

You might also want to sign Landmine Action's petition which is calling for combatants to clean up their unexploded bombs + landmines once the fighting is over.

Friday, July 04, 2003

:: New World Heritage sites announced ::
The United Nations Educational, Scientific + Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has added 24 new sites to it's list of world heritage sites...

Earth-Info.Net is particularly pleased to see the Purnululu National Park in Western Australia (home to the remarkable Bungle Bungle Range of mountains) and the UK's own Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on the list.

Thanks to Jez + The Guardian Weblog...

:: Ancient plants in danger ::
According to the IUCN's Cycad Specialist Group 53% of Cycads, a group of plants which has existed for over 300 million years, are in danger of going extinct due the human disturbance + the illegal wild plant trade.

The main threats to wild cycads include habitat destruction for farming, mining and urban development, habitat modification, traditional use (medicinal and magical), invading alien vegetation and the collection of plants + seeds from the wild for horticultural purposes... their reliance on specialist beetle pollinators also makes them particularly vulnerable to disturbance.

:: Radioactive Waste, Globalisation + Tobin Tax ::
Earth-Info.Net recommends three articles which have been produced by a Labour-affiliated think tank called the Fabian Society...

The first article is written by a Labour MP called Tom Watson, and is about the need for the UK government to take responsibility for dealing with the legacy of radioactive waste, the second article is about the need to reclaim the Globalisation debate back from the "globaphiles" + "globaphobes" and the third article considers the role of the Tobin Tax as a tool for global justice...

All of these think pieces make a good case for action + reform and are well worth a read, regardless of what you think of the Labour party.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

:: Award to journalist for Malaria reports ::
The NetMedia 2003 award for European Online Journalism has recognised Vincent Landon of Swiss Info as the internet journalist of the year for a 13 week series called “The Malaria Business”.

This excellent special does a great job of summarising the impacts of malaria, issues related to treatment, offers an informative visual presentation, audio + video clips and useful links galore.

Earth-Info.Net is very glad to see a major news organisation putting so much effort into covering this issue, as every year 300 million people in 100 countries catch Malaria - of which 2 million die.

:: Neglected diseases receive attention ::
Medicins Sans Frontieres has set up a not-for-profit drug research organisation called The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.

This initiative aims to develop drugs for diseases such as sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis + Chagas disease which together infect 350 million poor people every year, but which are not financially attractive enough for the world's commercial drug companies to work on.

Apparently, only 10% of the world's health budget is spent on tackling tropical diseases - although they account for 90% of the global disease burden.

MSF therefore aims to challenge the world's public sector and charitable foundations to fund $250 million of work, over the next 12 years, in order to ensure that latest expertise + technology are applied to tackling some of the diseases which cause the greatest suffering.

:: BAT in Burma ::
The British government has asked British American Tobacco to withdraw from Burma due to concerns over the oppressive treatment of pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, and her supporters, by the country's military regime.

BAT is currently considering what it's response will be...

Based on the final point in the following list of priorities from their Corporate Social Responsibility report for 2001/2002 it will be interesting to see whether or not BAT act on this request.

* Changing some of the ways we address issues of concern

* Tackling under-age smoking

* Committed to the principles of sustainable development, and working to world class standards of environmental, occupational health and safety performance

* Helping some 250,000 farmers through responsible tobacco leaf production

* Joining with NGOs and other partners to help conserve biodiversity and eliminate exploitative child labour

* Contributing to the communities where we operate.

Previously, in March 2000 the British government asked Premier Oil to withdraw from Burma. Premier eventually withdrew in 2002...

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

:: Walking, Worms + Water Butts ::
The efforts of The Guardian's Leo Hickman to live and consume more ethically are progressing well, although it's proving tougher than he expected...

So far Leo has taken the train (instead of flying) to Italy for a walking holiday, set up a water butt to collect rainwater for his garden + established a wormery to break down his kitchen's organic waste.

Great stuff, Leo! Keep up the good work... and thanks for the link to Earth-Info.Net!

:: UK energy policy "short-sighted" ::
Awareness is growing of the need for the UK to develop a sensible, long-term energy policy, with a report from the Institution of Civil Engineers highlighting that the UK will be importing most of it's energy within 20 years and warning that "Short-sighted energy planning threatens (a) bleak future".

:: Life in the abyss ::
Scientists from Australia + New Zealand have been exploring the deep-water ridges of the Pacific Ocean's southern fringe and have found a startling variety of weird + wonderful creatures previously unknown to science, thought to be extinct or only known from their fossils.

See here for a picture gallery.

Earth-Info.Net's favourite quote is:

"If you came from another planet and asked to see the most common habitat, you'd be shown the deep sea. Two thirds of the world is ocean. We are the weird ones in many ways..."

The following quote also deserves an honourable mention, as it conveys some of the excitement + uncertainty of the scientists involved...

"It's a lucky dip, but nothing is likely to leap out and latch on to you."

Again Earth-Info.Net's not sure why we spend so much on exploring space when we know so little about the marvels of our own planet...