Saturday, September 8, 2007

Typhoon kills two, heads north in Japan

Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007

Kyodo News, Japan Times, Japan

Typhoon No. 9 left two people dead, at least one person missing and more than 70 injured after hitting Tokyo early Friday and sweeping northward through the Kanto and Tohoku regions.

News photo
Rescue workers wade through the swollen Tama River searching shacks for homeless people after Typhoon No. 9 blew through Tokyo early Friday, causing extensive floods. AP PHOTO

Although the typhoon, named Fitow, lost some of its force after engulfing Tokyo, the Meteorological Agency warned the public to be on guard for strong winds and heavy rain along its path before its expected landing in Hokkaido on Saturday morning.

Fitow also disrupted mass transportation in the capital and cut power to thousands in the surrounding areas, which were hit by flooding and strong winds.

In Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, Tsuneo Yanagisawa, 76, died after being hit by a tree around 11 p.m. Thursday while clearing other trees felled by the typhoon, police said.

In Ono, Fukui Prefecture, a construction worker died and another was injured after being caught by a landslide at a dam construction site, firefighters said.

Many rivers in Tokyo and its surrounding vicinities swelled to near flood levels.

On the Tama River on the Tokyo-Kanagawa border, 29 people, mainly homeless who live along the banks, were rescued Friday after being stranded by the rising waters.

However, a 52-year-old company worker was reported missing in Kawasaki after leaving home Thursday night, police said.

He reportedly told his wife he was going to take a look at the swollen river, and police suspect he fell in and got washed away.

There also were unconfirmed reports that three people were swept away by the Tama River.

News photo
A bridge over the Sakawa River in Matsuda, Kanagawa Prefecture, is shown after collapsing Friday morning after its base was weakened by flood waters. KYODO PHOTO

Authorities temporarily urged some 20,000 households in Kanagawa Prefecture to evacuate due to flooding fears.

Similar evacuation advisories were issued Friday in areas including Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, and Gunma and Yamagata prefectures.

In Tokyo Bay off Yokohama, two cargo ships collided after dragging their anchors around 2 a.m. Friday, the Japan Coast Guard said. But none of 36 crew members on the 15,888-ton, Bahamas-registered African Oryx or the 1,995-ton, China-registered Tian Dao was hurt.

At 8 p.m. Friday, the typhoon, about 90 km southwest of Hakodate, Hokkaido, was moving north at 35 kph, whipping up winds up to 126 kph near its center with an atmospheric pressure of 990 hectopascals, according to the agency.

More than 100,000 households in eight prefectures have suffered blackouts since Thursday morning, with nearly 30,000 lacking power Friday morning, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. said.

At least 76 people were injured in the regions hit by the typhoon, according to a Kyodo survey.

East Japan Railway Co. and other railways suspended many morning commuter runs, including express and subway trains in the metropolitan area, delaying some 1.2 million people.

Some bullet trains on the Tokaido, Nagano, Tohoku-Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen lines were also suspended.

But Joetsu Shinkansen and Narita Express trains between the metropolitan area and Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture were running on schedule, JR East said.

Eight international flights and one domestic flight were canceled Friday morning due to strong winds, according to Narita International Airport Corp. officials.

Elsewhere, more than 240 domestic flights, mainly those arriving at and leaving Tokyo's Haneda airport and Miyagi Prefecture's Sendai airport, were scrubbed Friday.

Winds of 160.9 kph were clocked Friday at Cape Irozaki in Shizuoka Prefecture, while the wind speed reached 137.9 kph in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, the agency said.

In the 24-hour period to Saturday evening, up to 200 mm of rain has been forecast along the Pacific coast of the Tohoku region and Hokkaido, and up to 150 mm in areas on the Sea of Japan and Okhotsk sides of Hokkaido, the agency said.

Floods leave North Koreans hungry

From: Stephanie Nebehay -Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea, where floods have seriously damaged nearly one sixth of arable land, will continue to need international food aid in the long term, the United Nations said on Friday.

The U.N.'s World Food Program, reporting on its assessment of food security in the reclusive country after last month's devastating floods, is to provide emergency food rations to 215,000 people in six provinces for the next three months.

The floods killed hundreds and left hundreds of thousands homeless, with the hardest hit areas located in four provinces which are home to 76 percent of total arable land, it said.

"North Korean farmers and communities will require continuing international assistance to dig out from the damage caused by these floods, to recover livestock and to replant fields," WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said.

The foreign aid would need to be "long term", she added.

The country does not produce enough food to feed its population of 23 million, even with a good harvest. Aid agencies have said they expect the food shortage to be severe this year.

Relations between the secretive communist state and the West are thawing after a long stand-off over Pyongyang's nuclear program. U.S. President George W. Bush, who once branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil", said on Friday that Washington would consider a peace treaty with North Korea.

North Korea's Agriculture Ministry had told the WFP that 16 percent of arable land -- mainly used for growing rice, maize and soybeans -- had been seriously damaged, Berthiaume said.

"WFP fears a negative impact on the public distribution system in the country where everyone receives food rations," she said.

WFP had enjoyed "unprecedented government permission" to visit some 33 flood-stricken districts during its food security evaluation conducted from August 17-26, she added.

WFP's program to feed 215,000 people, estimated to cost $5-6 million, is part of a wider U.N. appeal for $14.1 million, launched in late August.

Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the appeal was 50 percent financed. "We are very satisfied for now. It is a good start," she said.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it feared outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as diarrhea in North Korea following the floods.

UNICEF is distributing oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets, but its priority is to help repair broken water distribution systems as quickly as possible, she said.

North Korea's appeal for aid was its first call in 12 years, since flooding in the 1990s led to a famine that some estimate killed as many as 2 million people.

Most polar bears could be lost by 2050: report

From: Deborah Zabarenko -Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two-thirds of the world's polar bear population could be gone by midcentury if predictions of melting sea ice hold true, the U.S. Geological Survey reported on Friday.

The fate of polar bears could be even bleaker than that estimate, because sea ice in the Arctic might be vanishing faster than the available computer models predict, the geological survey said in a report aimed at determining whether the big white bear should be listed as a threatened species.

"There is a definite link between changes in the sea ice and the welfare of polar bears," said Steve Amstrup, who led the research team. Arctic sea ice is already at an all-time low this year and is expected to retreat farther this month, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

That means that polar bears -- some 16,000 of them -- will disappear by 2050 from parts of the Arctic where sea ice is melting most rapidly, along the north coasts of Alaska and Russia, researchers said in a telephone briefing.

Other polar bear populations could survive beyond that date but many of those could be gone by 2100, Amstrup said. By century's end, the only polar bears left might live in the Canadian Arctic islands and along the west coast of Greenland.

"Projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately two-thirds of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century," the report's executive summary said.

"Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by currently available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative."


In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, noting polar bears depended on sea ice as a platform to hunt seals, their main prey.

The research released on Friday was sent to the Fish and Wildlife Service. A decision on the bears' status is expected in January.

Without enough sea ice, polar bears would be forced onto land, but they are inefficient hunters once they get out of the water and ice, the researchers said. The bears' disappearance would probably take place as young cubs failed to survive to adulthood and females were unable to reproduce successfully.

The first polar bears probably first appeared about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, and the species has not lived through a period as warm as the one predicted by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientists said.

In a series of reports this year, the U.N. climate panel said with 90 percent probability that global climate change was occurring and that human activities contributed to it. The emission of greenhouse gases -- including carbon dioxide from petroleum-fueled vehicles and coal-fired power plants -- is the prime human cause of this warming trend, the panel said.Global warming was an important topic of discussions of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum this week in Australia and will be the subject of a special U.N. meeting later this month.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Should we stop flying in organic food?

Should the Soil Association withdraw the 'organic' label from produce flown in from abroad? As the public debate hots up, critics insist a ban would threaten the livelihoods of farmers in developing nations. Others are more worried about the environmental impact ..

Guardian, UK


Claire Melamed, head of trade and corporate policy at charity Action Aid

A ban would have serious consequences for the developing world. It is important to keep the greenhouse gas emissions produced by organic air freight in perspective. The trade of fruit and vegetables from Africa to the UK accounts for only 0.1% of all the UK's emissions. Therefore, banning organic green beans from Kenya or mange tout from Zambia, say, is not going to make much difference to the UK's overall carbon footprint. However, there are many poor people in Africa who depend on that trade, so, for them, banning organic air freight means fewer children in schools, no investment in small businesses, less development of the economy and more poverty.

Of course, it is in the interest of the whole world to live in a greener way. No one denies that we should all be thinking about the effects on the planet of the emissions caused by aviation, but we shouldn't be looking to the poorest people in the world to save us from climate change. Every country is going to have to make some sacrifices for the environment and I think it is much fairer to ask everyone in the UK to give up one of their cars than it is to ask families in Africa to give up their entire year's income. It isn't acceptable for us to keep driving to the supermarket in our gas-guzzling 4 x 4s but stop people from developing countries from selling us their products because it has had to be flown into the UK. It shouldn't be the poor who suffer while we carry on in our own little world.

I don't think there is a single magic bullet to increase development in poorer countries but trade is undeniably a force for good - if it is the right sort of trade. In some countries exports are a very important part of the solution, and we can't deny that fact. At the moment, developing countries earn twice as much trading with UK supermarkets as the UK gives them in debt relief, so it is incredibly significant for their economies.

We all need to be thinking about ways to reduce poverty without damaging the environment. The organic movement should be a part of that, but rather than saying where the axe should fall now, we should be looking at how we can help organic farmers in Africa achieve this aim. A start would be giving them access to technology and investment so they can produce crops that have a longer shelf life and can be shipped to us, rather than air-freighted. We have to give them the tools to be able to reduce their environmental impact, rather than just cutting them out of the market.


Jon Stewart, campaigner for pressure group Airport Watch

There are major problems with the air-freighting of organic produce, which we need to address. The contribution of aviation to global warming is the most alarming. The figure that is often quoted is that it accounts for 2% of emissions worldwide. That figure seems quite low, but because it is a worldwide average and people in poor countries hardly fly, it essentially means the developed world's aviation emissions are proportionately very high.

Farmers in the developing world may have a sense of security from exporting fresh produce, but it is a false security because the poorest will feel the effects of climate change most immediately and most acutely. That's why richer countries need to take action first.

Another problem is the noise pollution caused by air freight and the impact it has on local communities in the UK. A lot of freight comes in on rather old, noisy planes, which often arrive at night. For example, East Midlands airport has more than 160 flights flying over rural Leicestershire every night and the people are being driven crazy by it. This may seem a small problem compared with what people in the developing world are facing, but don't forget they suffer from it too, only at the other end.

Also, air-freighting will soon become economically unsustainable as the demand for oil starts to outstrip supply. This will cause fuel prices, including the price of aviation kerosene, to rise rapidly. Farmers in Kenya who are growing organically are becoming almost entirely reliant on air freight to sell their goods. In the short term, that will bring some development benefits but it is a high-risk strategy. I would argue that it is unwise to become so dependent on a form of transport that won't be able to continue in the future the way it is now. Instead of being tied to this unsustainable form of trade, it would be more sensible to develop local trade, industry and agriculture.

It is a very difficult decision for ethical consumers to stop buying organic fresh produce that has been air-freighted to the UK because they naturally want to support farmers in the developing world. But they are also environmentally conscious. Therefore, I'm not advocating a ban on organic air freight overnight. But I do believe there has got to be a planned programme over the next 10 to 20 years where developing economies become less dependent on air freight and create more local opportunities. A selective ban with some exemptions introduced over a number of years seems the most equitable way forward.

· If you would like to comment on the Soil association's air freight consultation, visit Read Peter Melchett on why the issue is dividing the Soil Association at

· Post questions and answers to Ask Leo The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1 3ER Fax: 020-7713 4366. Please include your address and telephone number.

Is population control pure fantasy?

Stop procreating, or the baby gets it

Leo Hickman

We all like to try and do our bit. Take public transport when we can. Wash clothes at 30C. Recycle. Have a shower rather than a bath. Shop locally.

The Chinese authorities say they have been doing their bit, too, and should be recognised for doing so. (It must get to you in the end being accused - for right or wrong - of being Climate Enemy Number One.) This week at UN climate talks in Vienna, Su Wei, a senior foreign ministry official, said that China's one-child policy, initiated in the late 1970s, had led to 300 million fewer people being on the planet today. This is equivalent, he said, to the population of the United States and in 2005 alone meant China - based on the average global per capita emissions of 4.2 tonnes - averted 1.3 billion tones of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

OK, there are still 1.3 billion people in China, but he has a point. Population control is the subject that dares not speak its name among environmentalists, even though most would agree that there are far too many people on the planet for us to ever collectively achieve a sustainable future. There are all sorts of reasons for this - ideology and theology among them - but the principal reason is the basic question of how on earth would such a policy ever be implemented outside of a totalitarian, one-party state such as China? Mandatory sterilisation? Financial incentives? Improved education and healthcare?

Many campaigners say that development always acts to lower a country's birth rate. So while many developed countries now say they are facing a population decline due to ever-lower birth rates, most people in developing countries still cling to the idea that having children is the nearest thing to a pension policy.

Groups such as the Optimum Population Trust believe that the world's population needs to be at least halved in order to be sustainable. Meanwhile, the UN predicts that by 2050 the global population will have peaked at about 9 billion from its current 6 billion before slowly declining after this point. Something has got to give, says the Optimum Population Trust, and we must start to address this issue fast. But how?

"No one is in favour of governments dictating family size but we need to act quickly to prevent it," said Professor John Guillebaud, author of a report published by the trust earlier this year. The report recommends that the UK initiates a "stop at two" campaign. It also wants motherhood to be deglamorised: "New guidelines should be introduced for the portrayal of fertility issues by the media, aimed at countering the glamorisation of sex and stressing the responsibilities and frequent 'sheer drudgery' of motherhood. Storylines could demonstrate how teenage motherhood blights educational and earning prospects." (I suspect the trust won't be happy by the runaway success of the film Knocked Up this summer, then. One assumes Logan's Run to be more its kind of film.)

Beyond the UK, it says cultural and religious barriers to contraception must be lifted. But is this just pure fantasy? Is the world's population really going to be persuaded to halve itself in number by the end of the century? Or will some Biblical-style event do the culling on our behalf, as the Optimum Population Trust suggests could happen if numbers continue to inexorably rise?

Whenever people say that there are too many people on the planet, for me at least, there always follows a deafening silence of solutions that are really likely to work. But then again I - a father of three and therefore not really one qualified to talk on such matters - don't have any bright ideas, either. So, what would you do?

New Research Identifies How One Storm Can Affect Another

From: University of Leeds

University of Leeds - Weather forecasting and climate modelling for the notoriously unpredictable Sahel region of Africa could be made easier in the future, thanks to new research results coming from the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis study.

A paper published in Geophysical Research Letters describes how the AMMA scientists gathered new atmospheric data by using satellite imagery to plot flight paths over areas where storms had produced very wet soils. Dropsondes (weather reconnaissance devices) were launched from a research aircraft above these wet areas to record data such as humidity, wind strength and temperature. The findings allowed the scientists to compare the atmospheric conditions above wet soils with those above adjacent dry soils.

The data showed that temperatures fell by up to 3°C in the air just above the wet soils and also confirmed theoretical studies that predict soil moisture can affect winds. The temperature contrasts between very wet soils and nearby dry soils can have a dramatic effect on weather conditions. Air over wet soils can build up considerable humidity, while the warm air over dry soils rises. When the wet and dry conditions combine, storms are likely to build.

Lead author Chris Taylor from Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said, “Even small patches of moist soils, just ten kilometres across, were found to influence wind patterns. This provides a mechanism where storms can develop in a region because it rained there several days previously.”

The results of the study will help climate modellers who have traditionally struggled to accurately represent climate in the region.

Dr Doug Parker from the University of Leeds said, “If we can get it right for West Africa, other parts of the world will automatically benefit.”

Issued by the Natural Environment Research Council

APEC draft climate statement seen a compromise

From: Jalil Hamid -Reuters

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asia-Pacific officials agreed on Friday to a draft climate statement which reaffirms a U.N. treaty on fighting global warming, while urging non-binding "aspirational targets" for greenhouse gas reductions, a delegate said.

But the climate statement, which has emerged after tough negotiations following a split between developing and developed members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, remains to be agreed to by the 21 Asia-Pacific leaders.

"Its a compromise statement," an Asian delegate at the APEC Sydney forum told Reuters, adding it reaffirms the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and backs "aspirational targets," proposed by Australia.

"Clearly the countries got what they wanted in the draft."

Host Australian Prime Minister John Howard placed climate change at the top of the APEC agenda, seeking a post-Kyoto Protocol consensus to be called the "Sydney Declaration."

Green groups have said the APEC leaders' summit would be a failure if it did not agree to binding greenhouse gas reduction targets, but Howard has said no binding targets will be set.

Howard has pushed for "aspirational targets" and for each nation to set their own climate change goals.

Developing economies -- including China -- are strongly opposed to any wording that commits them to binding targets and some say they would prefer climate change goals be handled at a U.N. meeting later this month.

Howard's friend and strong ally President George W. Bush has said in Sydney he is prepared to support a strong leaders' statement on climate change and urged China, a developing nation and a major polluter, so do the same.

Both Australia and the United States say Kyoto, which sets binding greenhouse reduction targets, is flawed because it does not include major polluters China and India.

Both Howard and Bush have said at APEC that China and India must be included in any climate change

The draft climate statement will go up to APEC leaders when they begin their two day summit on Saturday.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that negotiations on the APEC climate statement were "very difficult."

"If we can get a good declaration out of this, that will be a very great achievement," Downer told reporters earlier on Friday. "But I make no predictions about how those negotiations will go."

Under APEC's consensus-based approach, any statement on climate change would be non-binding and it would be up to member countries' decision on whether to meet the targets.

Scientists Make Dire Forecast for Alaska

From: Dan Joling, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Sept. 7) - An analysis of 20 years' worth of real-life observations supports recent U.N. computer predictions that by 2050, summer sea ice off Alaska's north coast will probably shrink to nearly half the area it covered in the 1980s, federal scientists say.

The summer sea ice off Alaska's north coast will likely shrink considerably by 2050, said James Overland of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here, a ship is seen 50 miles north of Point Barrow in 2002.

Such a loss could have profound effects on mammals dependent on the sea ice, such as polar bears, now being considered for threatened species status because of changes in habitat due to global warming . It could also threaten the catch of fishermen.

In the 1980s, sea ice receded 30 to 50 miles each summer off the north coast, said James Overland, a Seattle-based oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Now we're talking about 300 to 500 miles north of Alaska," he said of projections for 2050.

That's far past the edge of the highly productive waters over the relatively shallow continental shelf, considered important habitat for polar bears and their main prey, ringed seals, as well as other ice-dependent mammals, such as walrus.

The NOAA researchers reviewed 20 computer scenarios of the effects of warming on sea ice, used by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its assessment report released this year.

The researchers compared those models with observations from 1979 through 1999, Overland said, and concluded that the summer ice in the Beaufort Sea likely will have diminished by 40 percent, compared with its 1980s area.

The same is likely for the East Siberian-Chukchi Sea region off northwest Alaska and Russia. In contrast, Canada's Baffin Bay and Labrador showed little predicted change.

There was less confidence for winter ice, but the models also predict a sea ice loss of more than 40 percent for the Bering Sea off Alaska's west coast, the Sea of Okhotsk east of Siberia and the Barents Sea north of Norway.

The research paper by Overland and Muyin Wang, a NOAA meteorologist, will be published Saturday in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

The situation is dire for polar bears, said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, who wrote the petition seeking federal protection for the animals.

"They're going to drown, they're going to starve, they're going to resort to cannibalism, they're going to become extinct," she said.

As ice recedes, many bears will get stuck on land in summer, where they have virtually no sustainable food source, Siegel said. Some will try and fail to swim to sea ice, she said.

Bears that stay on sea ice will find water beyond the continental shelf to be less productive, she said, and females trying to den on land in the fall will face a long swim.

"It's absolutely horrifying from the polar bear perspective," she said.

Less sea ice also will mean a changing ecosystem for commercial fishermen and marine mammals in the Bering Sea, Overland said.

With sea ice present, many of the nutrients produced in the ocean feed simple plankton that bloom and sink to the ocean floor, providing rich habitat for crabs, clams and the mammals that feed on them, including gray whales and walrus.

"If you don't have the ice around, the productivity stays up closer to the surface of the ocean," Overland said. "You actually have a change in the whole ecosystem from one that depends on the animals that live on the bottom to one that depends on the animals that live in the water column. So you have winners and losers."

That could mean short-term gains for salmon and pollock, he said. But it also could mean that fishermen will have to travel farther north to fish in Alaska's productive waters, and warm-water predators might move north.

The contribution to warming by greenhouse gas emissions likely is set, he said. Emissions stay in the atmosphere for 40 to 50 years before the ocean absorbs them. The amount emitted in the past 20 years and the carbon dioxide put out in the next 20 will linger, Overland said.

"I'm afraid to say, a lot of the images we are going to see in the next 30 to 40 years are pretty much already established," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Scientists fear ice caps melting faster than predicted

Paul Brown in Ilulissat
Guardian, UK

The Greenland ice cap is melting so quickly that it is triggering earthquakes as pieces of ice several cubic kilometres in size break off.

Scientists monitoring events this summer say the acceleration could be catastrophic in terms of sea-level rise and make predictions this February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change far too low.

The glacier at Ilulissat, which supposedly spawned the iceberg that sank the Titantic, is now flowing three times faster into the sea than it was 10 years ago.

Robert Correll, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, said in Ilulissat today: "We have seen a massive acceleration of the speed with which these glaciers are moving into the sea. The ice is moving at two metres an hour on a front 5km [3 miles] long and 1,500 metres deep. That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London for a year."

Prof Correll is visiting Greenland as part of a symposium of religious, scientific, and political leaders to look at the problems of the island, which has an ice cap 3km thick containing enough water to raise worldwide sea levels by seven metres.

Today leaders of Christian, Shia, Sunni, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist and Jewish religions took a boat to the tongue of the glacier for a silent prayer for the planet. They were invited by Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Prof Correll, director of the global change programme at the Heinz Centre in Washington, said the estimates of sea level rise in the IPCC report were conservative and based on data two years old. The predicted rise this century was 20cm to 60cm, but it would be at the upper end of this range at least, he said, and some believed it could be two metres. This would be catastrophic for European coastlines.

He had flown over the Ilulissat glacier and "seen gigantic holes in it through which swirling masses of melt water were falling. I first looked at this glacier in the 1960s and there were no holes. These so-called moulins, 10 to 15 metres across, have opened up all over the place. There are hundreds of them."

He said ice-penetrating radar showed that this melt water was pouring through to the bottom of the glacier creating a lake 500 metres deep which was causing the glacier "to float on land. These melt-water rivers are lubricating the glacier, like applying oil to a surface and causing it to slide into the sea. It is causing a massive acceleration which could be catastrophic."

The glacier is now moving at 15km a year into the sea although in surges it moves even faster. He measured one surge at 5km in 90 minutes - an extraordinary event.

Veli Kallio, a Finnish scientist, said the quakes were triggered because ice had broken away after being fused to the rock for hundreds of years. The quakes were not vast - on a magnitude of 1 to 3 - but had never happened before in north-west Greenland and showed the potential for the entire ice sheet to collapse.

Prof Correll said: "These earthquakes are not dangerous in themselves but the fact that they are happening shows that events are happening far faster than we ever anticipated."

Found in a fridge: One of the world's most endangered species

From: , Wildlife Alliance

TWO of the world's most beautiful creatures are found stuffed into a fridge in Hanoi - a rare insight into the lucrative trade in endangered animals across South-east Asia that makes a mockery of international conservation treaties.

Vietnamese police this week found the two frozen tigers in an apartment, along with two soup kettles filled with animal bones in an outdoor kitchen.

A 40-year-old woman confessed to police that she had hired three experts to cook tiger bones to make traditional medicines that she sold for about £400 per 100g.

"The tigers could have been bought in Myanmar [Burma] or Laos and transported back to Vietnam by ambulances or hidden in coffins," said Vuong Tri Hoa, a forest ranger.

And there is the problem: while more developed countries in South-east Asia, such as China and Vietnam, have taken strong steps to stamp out the illegal hunting of endangered animals, impoverished states such as Laos and Burma either will not or cannot. Demand for exotic animals across South-east Asia remains high - newly affluent Chinese prove excellent customers.

Three of the world's nine tiger sub-species fell extinct last century, and many scientists believe a fourth, the South China tiger is already "functionally extinct".

Poached from forests and sold to traders for as little as £5, almost every part of Asia's biggest big cat has commercial value.

Skins are sold as rugs and cloaks on the black market, where a single skin can fetch as much as £10,000.

Tiger meat is marketed as giving "strength", and bones are ground into powders or immersed in vats of wine to make curative "tiger-bone wine" tonics for the traditional Chinese medicine market.

If the market of Mong La is anything to go by, the remaining wild elephants, tigers and bears in Burma's forests are being hunted down slowly and sold to China.

Nestled in hills in a rebel-controlled enclave on the Chinese border, Mong La, the "Las Vegas in the jungle" casino town, is clearly branching out from narcotics and prostitution into the illegal wildlife business.

Besides row on row of fruit, vegetables and cheap plastic sandals, the market offers a grisly array of animal parts, as well as many live specimens, to the hundreds of Chinese tourists who flock across the porous border each day.

Bear paws and gall bladders, elephant tusks and chunks of hide, tiger and leopard skins, as well as big-cat teeth and deer horn are all openly on display next to crudely welded cages of live macaques, cobras, Burmese star tortoises and pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters.

The live creatures, some of them on the IUCN World Conservation Union's "Red List" of critically endangered species, are destined for the cooking pots of exotic animal restaurants in China's neighbouring Yunnan province, or further afield.

Food stalls in the market openly advertise dishes of pangolin or black bear. The body parts - some of which will not be real, given the ease with which a pig's bladder can be passed off as that of a bear - will either be ground up for traditional medicine, worn as amulets or simply hung on the wall as trophies.

Most of the specimens come from the former Burma's still vast tracts of virgin forest, wildlife experts believe.

"There's a huge flow of illegal wildlife going into China, through whatever porous border points there are.

"This is definitely one of them, mainly because the Burmese government just doesn't have a handle on the situation," said Steven Galster, the Bangkok-based director of the Wildlife Alliance.

Burma signed up in 1997 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which places partial or total bans on sales of the most threatened species, including bears and big cats.

Experts also say the junta that has run the country for the past 45 years may not be as oblivious to wildlife protection as might be expected from its reputation as an international pariah and ruthless crusher of political dissent.

In 2004, the junta set aside a huge stretch of jungle in the isolated Hukawng valley to become the world's largest tiger reserve.

But in the Golden Triangle hinterlands of eastern Shan state, the junta exercises little authority - nowhere more so than in Mong La, an autonomous fiefdom run by an ethnic Wa-Chinese warlord and drug baron called Sai Lin.

With the exotic animal black market worth billions of pounds a year - exceeded in value only by the illegal trade in arms and drugs, experts believe - it is little wonder the likes of Sai Lin are getting involved.

The 100,000 yuan (£6,500) price tag on a tiger skin stretched across the wall of one shop in Mong La shows what cross-border police efforts such as South-east Asia's Wildlife Enforcement Network, launched in 2005, are up against.

"These gangs are very big and have members stretching from Indonesia and Malaysia to Thailand and right up into China," said Aroon Promphan, a captain in the special wildlife crime division of the Thai police.

"They tend to be armed and there's still political influence in countries like China and Myanmar."

The Chinese government has stepped up efforts in recent years to stamp out the domestic wildlife trade and educate people about the environmental perils of stripping forests of their native flora and fauna.

However, the appetite for exotica remains and, partly as a result of the crackdown, the trade has intensified beyond China's borders.

"The situation in China is still bad, although the awareness among Chinese citizens and the government is much higher than it was before," Mr Galster said.

"The problem is you've got 1.3 billion people and so it only takes a tiny percentage of that population to be eating an endangered species to have a major impact."


THE tiger population in South-east Asia has declined from an estimated 100,000 in the early part of the 20th century to less than 4,000 in the wild today. Some estimates put the figure as low as 3,000.

They are considered to be critically endangered, with populations surviving in only 2-3 per cent of the area they ranged across 100 years ago.

The tiger population is declining at a rate of about 400 per year through a combination of poaching and habitat conflict.

At this rate it is estimated tigers will be extinct in the region sometime between 2012 and 2015.

The populations are scattered in pockets across Myanmar, southern China, Thailand and Siberia, where their habitat has been eroded by illegal logging, which also forces local farmers on to their roaming grounds.

Grazing land for the tiger - and also crucially, its prey - has become scarce, driving the predators into contact with humans. They will often kill farm animals - usually the only source of income for farmers - for food, and are frequently poisoned by farmers as pests. The WWF says it is greatly concerned at the plight of the tiger, and two areas of Myanmar are considered to be global priority landscapes, where the animal is in need of greatest protection.

Tigers are classified as a conservation dependent species, in need of constant assistance to ensure their survival. They require space to roam, and buffer zones to separate them from human populations.

They are also poached heavily for their coats, which trade at high value on the black market to local people as well as western visitors.

The Environmental Investigation Agency says the trade in tiger skins in South- east Asia has increased greatly in recent years.

It is believed that if poaching cannot be curtailed, the tiger population would be wiped out very quickly.

In India and Bangladesh the trade in tiger skin has reduced the population to an estimated 1,500. There are believed to be fewer than 500 in Siberia, and below 400 in Thailand where the species formerly flourished.

The Balian tiger, the Javan tiger and the Caspian tiger have all become extinct in the last 25 years. In Sumatra there are believed to be fewer than 500 left alive, and less than 25 tigers survive in southern China.

The WWF says there is hope for the tiger population if they can be left alone to breed.

If conservation action is sustained, it is hoped viable populations can be maintained, but it is not thought that tiger populations can exist in the future without permanent conservation assistance.

Bodies wash up in Nicaragua from deadly hurricane

From: Jimmy Sanchez and Oswaldo Rivas -Reuters

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Bodies of Miskito Indians killed by Hurricane Felix floated in the Caribbean off Central America and washed up on beaches on Thursday as the death toll from the storm rose to over 60.

Many of the dead were traveling by boat when they were hit by huge waves as Felix struck near the border between Honduras and Nicaragua on Tuesday as a giant Category 5 storm.

Other victims appeared to have been sucked away from their flimsy shacks on the shore. Nicaraguan fishermen told reporters they saw bodies of people still tied to trees in a vain bid to stay safe from winds of 160 mph (256 kph) and roaring seas.

"We have at 42 people dead," local Gov. Reynaldo Francis told reporters, adding that he expected that figure to rise. "In Honduras and in our territory on the coast ... more are appearing," he said.

Relatives sheltering in the port of Puerto Cabezas wept as soldiers in small boats carrying emergency food returned from tiny coastal villages and reported inhabitants missing. Others rejoiced as boats brought bedraggled survivors to the port.

The fierce storm struck fear into the local people.

"They told us a hurricane was coming and all the men and women were in their houses crying," said Ana Isolina Alvarado, an indigenous woman arriving from one of the tiny Cayos Miskitos islets in a fishing boat. She took refuge from the storm in the boat after it got trapped in nearby mangroves.

She told a local television channel that four of her family were missing and dozens more from her village.

Up to 25 bodies floated in the sea near the Nicaraguan border on Thursday, the Honduran civil protection agency said.

Reviving memories of Hurricane Mitch, which killed 10,000 people in Central America in 1998, Felix smashed up thousands of flimsy wooden homes in Nicaragua, flattened trees and made barely developed jungle areas even less passable than normal.

It mainly hit the turtle-fishing Miskitos, who formed a British protectorate until the 19th century and still live in wooden shacks in isolated and sparsely populated marshlands dotted with lagoons and crocodile-infested rivers. Some 35,000 of them live in Honduras and more than 100,000 in Nicaragua.


Aerial images showed the area strewn with debris.

Felix came on the heels of another deadly Category 5 storm, Hurricane Dean -- the first time on record that two Atlantic storms made landfall as Category 5 hurricanes in one season.

An exact number of dead and missing was hard to come by. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said on Wednesday that more than 200 people were missing, but 52 Miskito Indian survivors were later fished out of the sea off Honduras.

"They were holding onto planks and buoys for hours," said local Honduran deputy Carolina Echeverria. The Navy was amazed when it found the Miskito Indians near Raya, close to the Nicaraguan border.

Half the group were in good enough shape to be sent home on a Nicaraguan Navy boat, while the rest were taken to hospitals in Honduras.

Teams of Nicaraguan soldiers distributed food to cut-off villagers surviving on nothing but coconuts.

"We are still waiting for help," a Miskito woman called Lilian told reporters in her coastal hamlet where 2,000 people stood helplessly in the debris of their wrecked homes.

(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Ivan Castro in Managua)

APEC officials agree on global warming statement

From: Associated Press
Published September 7, 2007

SYDNEY (AP): Pacific Rim nations on Friday reached agreement on a joint statement on global warming, overcoming bickering between rich and poor nations about whether to include targets on emissions, two Asian officials said.

Experts from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum approved the wording of a final draft statement on climate change that would be handed to leaders at their summit starting Saturday, the officials said.

If the leaders agree to the statement in it's current form, it would be a big victory for the goal of Australia and the United States to have China - one of the world's biggest polluters ”“ and other developing nations commit to quantifiable goals to tackle climate change.

One official involved in the talks, Indonesia's Salman Al-Farisi, said the draft statement included agreement on setting an "energy intensity" reducing target - a major concession by poorer nations that had earlier refused to consider including any quantifiable goals.

The target was for all 21 APEC members to work toward a 25 percent reduction of energy intensity by 2030, said a Southeast Asian officials involved in the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

In return for the reduction target, developed countries have accepted the inclusion of recognition of the U.N. principle that poorer nations had fewer responsibilities to cut carbon emissions that developed ones, officials said.

The sides also agreed that the U.N. was the chief place for global negotiations on the problem.

"Everybody cannot get everything, but everybody did not lose too much," Al-Farisi said of the compromise. He stressed that, in line with APEC's consensus-based, non-binding approach, nothing in the agreement was cast in stone.

"It is (up to members') discretion to follow, in accordance to their national programs," he said.

Another Southeast Asian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that agreement had been reached among officials, and the final draft was ready to be handed to the leaders

NOAA study backs up predictions of sea ice loss

From: Associated Press

Sea ice loss in regions of the Arctic is likely to exceed 40 percent by 2050 compared with the 1980s, according to an analysis of ice computer models by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A 40 percent loss of sea ice off Alaska in the Beaufort Sea could have profound effects on marine mammals dependent on the sea ice such as polar bears, now under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act because of changes in the animals' habitat from global warming.

Researchers James Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, and Muyin Wang, a meteorologist at NOAA's Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington in Seattle, reviewed 20 computer models provided through the International Panel on Climate Change in its fourth assessment report released this year.

The researchers compared those models' projections from 1979 through 1999 with actual sea ice observations and eliminated models deemed to be less reliable.

"About half the models were off, or outliers, in that they had too much ice or too little ice or not enough difference between the ice in the summer or winter compared to the observations of ice we already have," Overland said at a news conference Thursday.

The analysis increases the confidence in projections that greenhouse gas emissions will eliminate 40 percent of Arctic sea ice in summer and winter by the middle of the century, Overland said, based on emissions already in the atmosphere and those pumped out in the next two decades. In the 1980s, sea ice receded 30 to 50 miles each summer off the north coast of Alaska, Overland said.

"Now we're talking about 300 to 500 miles north of Alaska," he said of the projections for 2050.

That's far past the edge of the highly productive waters over the relatively shallow continental shelf off Alaska's north coast, considered important habitat for polar bears and their main prey, ringed seals, plus other ice-dependent mammals such as walrus.

It also will mean a changing ecosystem for commercial fishermen and marine mammals in the Bering Sea, Overland said.

With sea ice present, much of the nutrients produced in the ocean feed simple plankton that bloom and sink to the ocean floor, providing rich habitat for crabs, clams and the mammals that feed off them, including gray whales and walrus.

"If you don't have the ice around, the productivity stays up closer to the surface of the ocean," Overland said. "You actually have a change in the whole ecosystem from one that depends on the animals that live on the bottom to one that depends on the animals that live in the water column. So you have winners and losers."

That could mean short-term gains for salmon and pollock, he said. But it also could mean that fishermen will have to travel farther north to fish in Alaska's productive waters, and warm-water predators might also begin showing up.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Giant Solar Plant Planned In California Desert

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - BrightSource Energy Inc, a private solar energy company, said on Thursday it filed for a construction permit from the California Energy Commission to build a 400-megawatt solar power plant in the Mojave Desert.

The project would cover between 3,000 and 3,500 acres near the Nevada border about 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas and use solar thermal technology to generate electricity at two 100 MW plants and one 200 MW plant.

The planned technology will use thousands of small mirrors to reflect sunlight on boilers atop 300-foot-tall towers, said Charles Ricker, a senior vice president at BrightSource. The sunlight would heat water to produce steam to run turbines.

The technology was developed by BrightSource subsidiary Luz II, which built power plants in the Mojave in the 1980s.

The site is on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the company has applied to the agency for a right-of-way grant.

BLM already has received right-of-way requests on more than 300,000 acres of California desert for development of about 34 large solar plants totaling 24,000 MW.

That would be about half of the electricity consumed in California on a hot summer day.

BrightSource has responded to power purchase solicitations by three California utilities -- PG&E Corp's Pacific Gas & Electric unit, Edison International's EIX.N Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric, a unit of Sempra Energy SRE.N.

Ricker said the project would be built in three stages, with 2010 the target for the first plant. Development costs were not disclosed.

The Oakland-based company said it was working with the California Independent System Operator, which manages 80 percent of the state power grid, to determine availability of transmission lines.

© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

Congressional Report: Climate Change Hitting Federal Lands And Waters Hard

From: Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent, Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More beetles and fewer spruce trees in Alaska, whiter coral and fewer scuba-divers in Florida and more wildfires in Arizona already show the impact of climate change on U.S. lands and waters, a congressional watchdog agency reported on Thursday.

But the federal agencies that manage over 600 million acres of federal land -- nearly 30 percent of the land area of the United States -- and more than 150,000 square miles of protected waters have little guidance on how to deal with the effects of global warming, the Government Accountability Office said.

"Undertaking activities that address the effects of climate change is currently not a priority" for the five U.S. agencies that manage this territory, the report by the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress said.

These agencies are the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Interior Department, which includes three of the five agencies, ordered them in 2001 to analyze potential climate change effects on U.S.-managed lands, but has not yet provided direction to managers on how to plan for climate change, the report said.

Resource managers at the other two agencies echoed that sentiment, according to the report.

"Resource managers are uncertain about what actions, if any, they should take to address the current effects of climate change and to plan for future effects on their resources," the report's authors wrote.


The authors based their conclusions on discussions with scientists, economists and federal resource managers, and field studies of four federal areas that represent distinct ecosystems.

These are: the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, representing coasts and oceans; the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, representing forests; Glacier National Park in Montana, representing fresh waters; and the Bureau of Land Management's Arizona field office, representing grasslands and shrublands.

In the Florida Keys, they found rising sea levels that can be attributed to climate change have already affected low-lying areas, and saltwater intrusion on land has cut the fresh water and habitat that support native plants and animals.

In the future, the report said global warming may hamper fishing and tourism in this ecosystem, notably by causing coral to bleach, cutting down on fish habitats and lessening the coral's draw for snorkelers and scuba-divers.

Warmer temperatures and reduced precipitation associated with climate change in Alaska's Chugach National Forest have contributed to outbreaks of insects, such as the spruce bark beetles which have killed some kinds of spruce trees over the forest's 400,000 acres, the report said.

In Montana, the glaciers that give Glacier National Park its name are dwindling, down from 150 in 1950 to 26 now, according to the report.

Arizona's Mojave Desert is suffering more virulent wildfires due at least in part to climate change, the report said, because drought has damaged native plants and allowed invasive grasses to take over, making it easier for fires to start and harder to extinguish them.

The Agriculture, Commerce and Interior departments all generally agreed with the report's recommendation to develop clear plans for resource managers at the five agencies, the report said.

Virus called chief suspect in bee death

Carolyn Cole / LAT
Beekeeper Dave Hackenberg of West Milton, Pa., moves hives into an apple orchard for the night. Hackenberg, who sounded one of the earliest alarms, figures he lost more than $460,000 this winter in bees, honey and missed pollination opportunities. “If that happens again, we’re out of business,” he says.
But researchers say they can't yet prove it's the cause of a disease that's killing American bee colonies in record numbers.
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Scientists have found a virus that is associated with the destruction of a large fraction of American commercial bee colonies, but they have not been able to prove that it is the cause of the mysterious disease that has wreaked havoc on the bee industry.

The virus, called Israeli acute paralysis, may have been brought into the United States in bees imported from Australia. That importation was first permitted in 2004, about the same time that the new disease -- called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD -- began appearing in this country.

Bee Mystery
Australian bees do not suffer from CCD, leading researchers to speculate that the virus acts synergistically with chemicals in the environment or with another infectious agent, such as the varroa mite, which is not common in Australia.

Experiments are underway to determine which combination of virus and chemical or infectious agent, if any, causes the disease, and researchers hope to have an answer this year. Researchers are also examining archived bee specimens to determine whether the virus was present before 2004.

"Our results indicate that [the virus] is a significant marker for CCD," said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, a coauthor of the report published online today by the journal Science. "The next step is to ascertain whether [the virus], alone or in concert with other factors, can induce CCD in healthy bees."

Entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois said the new find was "compelling."

But researchers from the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland cautioned that they had unpublished results in which they found the Israeli virus in non-CCD colonies.

Although America has had many bee die-offs in the past, the latest episode has been one of the worst, affecting an estimated 23% of beekeepers. Typically, from 50% to 90% of a keeper's colonies are affected, with the worker bees simply failing to return to their hives, leaving behind the queen and a handful of newborn bees.

Agricultural experts have viewed the deaths with alarm because bees are required to pollinate about a third of the nation's food crops, including almonds, cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries and pumpkins.

The number of bee colonies in the country is about 2.5 million, down from 5 million in the 1940s and 1950s. "We don't have a great deal of buffer" for dealing with bee losses, said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University.

In May, scientists from around the country formed a working group led by Cox-Foster and entomologist Jeffery S. Pettis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to track down the cause of the deaths.

They enlisted virologist Lipkin to look for pathogens infecting the sick bees, using samples from four sick colonies around the United States and healthy colonies from Hawaii and Pennsylvania. Lipkin and his colleagues ground up the bees, extracted RNA, sequenced it and matched the non-honeybee sequences to known databases. The results surprised everybody.

All of the bees, both healthy and sick, had a set of eight distinctive bacteria "that have not been found in any other environment or host," said coauthor Nancy A. Moran of the University of Arizona. "They are all unnamed species about which we know very little. They probably perform essential functions in bees, providing essential nutrients or contributing defenses against pathogens."

Similarly, there was "a remarkably high viral burden in bee populations, both those with CCD and those without it," said coauthor Edward C. Holmes of Penn State University. "There were seven different viruses, but only one was consistently found with CCD."

Israeli acute paralysis virus was found in all the CCD specimens, but in neither of the healthy specimens. It was also present in some bees imported from Australia and in two of four samples of royal jelly imported from China. The imported jelly is normally used as a cosmetic, but some beekeepers feed it to larvae to produce queens.All of the infected colonies, moreover, had bees from Australia or were housed close to bees from that country. U.S. officials are considering reinstating the ban on bees from Australia, Pettis said, but it may be too late to limit the damage already done.

Israeli acute paralysis virus was discovered in 2002 in dead bees from Israeli colonies by virologist Ilan Sela of the University of Jerusalem. In experiments reported this summer, Sela found that injecting the virus into bees killed 98% of recipients within days.

The symptoms in the Israeli bees -- shivering wings, paralysis and death -- are different from those exhibited by American bees. But Holmes speculated that the virus might have undergone slight genetic changes that had altered its pathogenicity.

"We know from other viruses that very small genetic changes can turn a benign virus into a very virulent one," he said.

Or it may be that the symptoms are different in bees whose immune systems are stressed by the varroa mite or by being trucked from farm to farm during the growing season.

The finding does offer one ray of hope. Sela has reported that about 30% of bees he studied in Israel had incorporated the viral genome into their genetic blueprint and had become resistant to the virus. If the virus is shown to be the cause of CCD, it may be possible to replace current bee colonies with hives of resistant specimens.

Global warming: Too hot to handle for the BBC

The Independent, UK

Green groups protest after corporation calls off day of programming dedicated to climate change

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

The transformation of climate change from a scientific to a political issue became clear last night when the BBC dropped plans for a day-long TV special on global warming.

The scrapping of Planet Relief, an awareness-raising broadcast similar in concept to programmes such as the poverty-focused Comic Relief and Live8, and planned for early next year, marked a watershed moment: it showed that opining about climate change is now as significant in Britain as scientific fact.

Environmentalists and politicians fiercely criticised the BBC for abandoning the programme, for which Ricky Gervais and Jonathan Ross had been provisionally lined up as presenters. The corporation said that it had decided it was not the BBC's job to lead opinion on the global warming issue. However, critics complained that the effect of the decision was to imply that there was no scientific consensus on the reality of climate change and its human causes, and accused the corporation of being swayed by increasingly vocal climate-change sceptics.

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat spokesman on the environment, said: "The consensus about global warming in the science community is now overwhelming, so accusing the BBC of campaigning on such an undisputed threat is like suggesting it should be even-handed between criminals and their victims."

The green activist and author Mark Lynas said that the decision showed "a real poverty of understanding among senior BBC executives about the gravity of the situation we now face.

"The only reason why this became an issue is that there is a small but vociferous group of extreme right-wing climate 'sceptics' lobbying against taking action, so the BBC is behaving like a coward and refusing to take a more consistent stance," he said.

Planet Relief was a working title for the TV special, which was being developed by Jon Plowman, head of BBC Comedy. While the event might have been similar in scale to Comic Relief or Children in Need, it would not have involved fundraising.

It was intended to raise awareness of the issue of climate change. The BBC had been in discussions with the National Grid about the possibility of calling on viewers to participate in a mass electricity "switch-off" or if that had not proved feasible, to turn off the electricity at selected iconic landmarks.

The abandonment of the programme came about after an intense in-house debate about exactly how the corporation should treat the global warming issue, now becoming increasingly politicised in Britain. It could be broadly said that action on climate change, while favoured by many across the political spectrum, has a particular appeal for radical groups, not least because industrial capitalism is seen as being the principal cause of the problem.

By extension, some voices on the right regard it as just another radical cause, oppose it instinctively and seek to cast doubt on its scientific basis. The BBC has been under fire, especially from right-wing commentators, for proselytising in its presentation of some concerns, and some senior executives had doubts about the Planet Relief proposal in particular, suggesting it would leave the corporation open to the charge of bias.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival this month, Newsnight's editor, Peter Barron said: "It's abso- lutely not the BBC's job to save the planet." The head of television news, Peter Horrocks, wrote in the BBC News website editor's blog: "It is not the BBC's job to lead opinion or proselytise on this or any other subject."

However, a spokeswoman for BBC1, the channel on which Planet Relief would have been shown, insisted that last night's decision was not made "in light of the recent debate around impartiality." She added: "BBC1 aims to bring a mass audience to contemporary and relevant issues and this includes the topic of climate change.

"Our audiences tell us they are most receptive to documentary or factual-style programming as a means of learning about the issues surrounding this subject, and as part of this learning we have made the decision not to go proceed with the Planet Relief event. Instead we will focus our energies on a range of factual programmes on the important and complex subject of climate change."

Mark Lynas dismissed the argument that Planet Relief was dropped for purely editorial reasons as "PR guff". "This is all to do with the fact that climate change is such a political issue and it's too hot for the BBC to handle," he said. "It's intellectual bankruptcy. The entire scientific community is telling the world that it's the biggest threat to human civilisation. What more evidence do you need?" Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said the decision was very disappointing "considering the huge potential for the BBC in helping us more quickly make the shift toward a low-carbon society."

Andrew Neil, who presents the Daily Politics and This Week on the BBC, said: "I'm delighted the BBC has cancelled it. Our job is to cover these things, not to comment on them. There's a great danger that on some issues we're becoming a one-party state in which we're meant to have only one kind of view. You don't have to be a climate-change denier to recognise that there's a great range of opinion on the subject."

Fires cast haze over region

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A flock of pigeons sits under an unusually red sunrise in... Smoke from a forest fire in southern Santa Clara County i... Brush Fire Burns Thousands of Acres. Chronicle Graphic A firefighter from the St. Helena Fire Dept. looks at a s...

(09-06) 09:07 PDT Greenville -- A fire burning more than 200 miles from San Francisco has cast an eerie pall over the Bay Area this morning, making the sun appear red.

Offshore winds are pushing smoke and haze southwest from a 24,300-acre blaze in Plumas County, near Greenville, said National Weather Service forecaster Brian Tentinger. Much of the smoke from the Moonlight Fire had settled in the Sacramento Valley on Wednesday, but now appears to have spread south away from the capital and into the Bay Area, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"The Plumas (County) fire is burning pretty good and ... blowing all the smoke down to the Bay Area ... the sunlight passing through the smoke and haze makes it do different things," said Tentinger. "(It) should switch back to onshore winds by tomorrow and (the smoke) will start to disperse a little bit this afternoon and evening."

Dennis Perfetto, who lives in San Francisco's Panhandle area, said he was stunned by the red and orange sky this morning.

"It was absolutely beautiful, spectacular," he said. "I looked east about 8 a.m. and I just thought, that's spectacular, then I thought, 'What's causing this?' I figured it was smoke ... It looked like in Hawaii, on the Big Island, when the volcano kicks up."

The rural blaze, which is only eight percent contained, is being fed by windy, dry conditions and low humidity, Berlant said. It has forced the evacuation of 500 homes in Greenville, said Berlant, though the majority of the blaze is in rugged, steep and rural terrain.

"It fanned out to a huge number of acres in a short amount of time," he said.

Firefighters' efforts are also being hampered in Santa Clara County, where about 1,750 people are battling an 18,900-acre fire east of Morgan Hill in Henry W. Coe State Park. Officials said Wednesday that the blaze was caused by an illegal debris burn. Both fires began on Monday.

Henry DeKruyff, a forestry spokesman, said the Santa Clara County blaze, dubbed the Lick Fire, is still only 25 percent contained. Officials are bracing for a rough day, he said, with low humidity also expected to help fan the flames in the South Bay.

"The low humidity is affecting burnout operations and will continue to affect our efforts intensely," he said. "We're expecting significant resistance (today) - the fire is going into a lot of heavy timber and brush."

The large amount of smoke from that fire has also grounded air support this morning, said DeKruyff. Officials hope to get planes and helicopters back up later this morning, he said.

Fire crews are attempting to build 19 miles of fire lines around the blaze, which is still moving east. Twenty-five residences and 10 outbuildings remain in danger, as well as the park's visitor center and several campgrounds. State park officials and archeologists are also working to protect archeological sites in the area, said DeKruyff.

The good news, according to the National Weather Service, is that temperatures are expected to peak today in the low 90s and then drop off a bit tomorrow into the mid-80s.

Felix kills 38 in Nicaragua; survivors wash ashore

From: Oswaldo Rivas -Reuters

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Soldiers searched for more bodies on Thursday after Hurricane Felix killed 38 people in Nicaragua, while 52 members of a group of Miskito Indians washed ashore alive in neighboring Honduras.

Dozens were still missing after Felix tore into Nicaragua's swampy Caribbean coast late on Tuesday, destroying thousands of flimsy homes and making tracks through barely developed jungle areas even less passable than normal.

But local government officials said 52 bedraggled Miskitos, mainly fishermen, washed up in the Honduran port of Raya near the Nicaraguan border after being swept off a tiny island and surviving the storm clinging to boards and lifebuoys.

"Fifty-two Nicaraguan Miskitos, part of the 150 or so that had disappeared, were found in Honduran waters," Carolina Echeverria, a deputy from Cabo Gracias a Dios on the border with Nicaragua, told Reuters by telephone.

"They were holding onto planks and buoys for hours," she said, after speaking to officials in Raya by radio.

She said around half of the survivors were in good enough health to be sent home on Thursday on a Nicaraguan Navy boat, while the other half were being taken to hospital in Honduras for treatment for exposure.

The turtle-fishing Miskito Indians, who live mainly in wooden shacks in isolated marshlands dotted with lagoons and crocodile-infested rivers, were hard hit by Felix. Some 35,000 Miskitos live in Honduras and more than 100,000 in Nicaragua.

Echeverria said the survivors had been on a small key fishing for lobster when the storm approached, and many more may still be unaccounted for.


In Nicaragua, soldiers combed the area around Puerto Cabezas for more casualties while the Navy tried to reach settlements on marshy spits of land or on keys.

Felix crashed into the coast on Tuesday as an extremely powerful Category 5 hurricane but was downgraded to a tropical depression by Wednesday evening as it moved westward and drenched already waterlogged southeastern Mexico with rain.

Nicaraguan disaster prevention chief Col. Ramon Arnesto put the death toll there at 38, with dozens believed missing.

"There are a lot of missing people," he told reporters on Wednesday, as people wept at the harbor in Puerto Cabezas for a dozen fishermen they said had not returned.

Visiting the area on Wednesday, President Daniel Ortega said about 9,000 homes had been destroyed. Residents and soldiers battled to clear the streets of uprooted trees.

"We are talking about really serious damage," Ortega said.

Felix revived memories throughout Central America of Hurricane Mitch, which killed 10,000 people in 1998.

In the early hours of Thursday Felix's eye was grinding through western Honduras, dropping sheets of rain. It left the capital Tegucigalpa relatively unscathed but flooded villages in the north and left rivers close to bursting their banks.

There were no reports of deaths in Honduras but local media said some 25,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Felix came on the heels of another deadly Category 5 storm, Hurricane Dean, marking the first time on record that two Atlantic storms made landfall as Category 5 hurricanes in one season. Dean killed 27 people in the Caribbean and Mexico.

In Mexico, Hurricane Henriette lost strength as it drenched northern states on Thursday after lashing Los Cabos and killing seven people as it tore through the Gulf of California this week. Two more people were reported dead late on Wednesday in northern Sonora state.

(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Noel Randewich in Tegucigalpa and Ivan Castro in Managua)

Nuclear industry hails climate-driven "renaissance"

From: Jeremy Lovell -Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - The nuclear power industry said on Thursday it provided a clean alternative to fossil fuels and a global warming crisis, shrugging off environmentalist concerns about nuclear waste and atomic security.

The term "renaissance" was the buzz word as nuclear industry players emerged from the 21-year-long shadow of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and gathered in London for two days of talks at the 32nd annual symposium of the World Nuclear Association.

"Nuclear power is now a fully competitive electricity source," said WNA chairman Ralf Gueldner. "Today we see the nuclear renaissance begin to reach full bloom."

Nuclear power now provides 16 percent of a world electricity demand predicted to at least keep pace with the 50 percent growth in population expected by 2075 -- and nuclear optimists see that share rising.

Gueldner said he even expected his own country Germany to reverse its current policy of phasing out nuclear power plants.

Scientists predict that global average temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to carbon gases from burning fossil fuels for power and transport, bring climatic and humanitarian disasters.

As the world wakes up to the threat governments are seeking to curb carbon emissions through clean sources of power that do not harm economic growth.

The nuclear power industry, despite environmentalists' worries about security, nuclear weapons proliferation and the fact that nuclear waste remains deadly for thousands of years, sees itself as an obvious choice.

"The prospects for nuclear energy are more promising today than at any time since its development," said Dennis Spurgeon, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, who also termed it a "global renaissance."

"There is now a worldwide momentum for the expansion of nuclear power."

At present there are some 429 reactors operating globally, with 25 more under construction, 76 planned and 162 proposed.

Coal-rich China, which is building a coal-fired power station a week to fuel its booming economy, has also embarked on a major nuclear power program.

International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei said nuclear power had a role with 1.6 billion people without any access to electricity and the developed world using 170 times more electric power than the developing nations.

But he said the world had to guard "relentlessly" against the dangers of weapons proliferation.

"Nuclear power can't be an exclusive solution for wealthy nations," he said. "But the challenges of introducing nuclear power in developing countries are formidable."

Environmentalist James Lovelock, who outraged the green movement several years ago by saying nuclear power had a role to play, introduced a more somber note to the gathering.

"World systems are already in failure mode," he said. "The world itself is in no danger and we as a species will probably survive. What is at risk is our civilization."

Cutting carbon emissions would, like a kidney failure patient on dialysis, buy time. But temperatures would inevitable rise bringing floods and famines and forcing the surviving humans into isolated areas until the planet recovered.

Norway says cars neither "green" nor "clean"

From: Alister Doyle -Reuters

OSLO (Reuters) - No car can be "green," "clean" or "environmentally friendly," according to some of the world's strictest advertising guidelines set to enter into force in Norway next month.

"Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others," Bente Oeverli, a senior official at the office of the state-run Consumer Ombudsman, told Reuters on Thursday.

Carmakers such as Toyota, General Motor's Opel, Mitsubishi, Peugeot Citroen, Saab and Suzuki had all used phrases this year in advertisements that the watchdog judged misleading, she said.

One Toyota advertisement for a Prius, for instance, described the gasoline-electric hybrid as "the world's most environmentally friendly car."

"If someone says their car is more 'green' or 'environmentally friendly' than others then they would have to be able to document it in every aspect from production, to emissions, to energy use, to recycling," she said.

"In practice that can't be done," she said of tougher guidelines entering into force in Norway from October 15.

The guidelines distributed to carmakers said: "We ask that ... phrases such as 'environmentally friendly', 'green', 'clean', 'environmental car', 'natural' or similar descriptions not be used in marketing cars."

Carmakers would risk fines if they failed to drop the words. Oeverli said she did not know of other countries going so far in cracking down on cars and the environment.


In one ruling abroad, for instance, Britain's advertising watchdog said that Volvo advertisements should not repeat a claim that its C30 car was "designed with the utmost respect for the environment in mind."

Oeverli said carmakers, who are making huge investments in cleaning up emissions, seemed happy to get clearer rules about advertising. In future in Norway, they could only give information that could be firmly documented.

That meant that even phrases such as "Car X has low emissions of carbon dioxide," the main greenhouse gas released by burning oil, should be avoided.

The watchdog argued that mentioning carbon dioxide alone could mislead buyers into believing that the car also had low emissions of toxic nitrous oxide or other polluting particles.

Transport, mainly trucks and cars, accounts for about a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions from human sources, widely blamed for stoking a warming that could bring more floods, desertification, heatwaves and rising seas.

APEC rift opens over climate change deba

From: Bill Tarrant -Reuters

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Leaders at an Asia-Pacific summit appeared deadlocked on Thursday over what their "Sydney declaration" on climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions should say.

China's President Hu Jintao gave only qualified support to Australia's initiative on climate change, while some developing nations criticized Australian and U.S. moves to put climate change at the top of the agenda of the APEC gathering in Sydney.

Hu told a rare news conference after meeting Australian Prime Minister John Howard that he preferred the U.N. framework for handling climate change proposals.

"We very much hope that this Sydney Declaration will give full expression to the position that the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change would remain the main channel for international efforts to tackle climate change," Hu said.

The declaration should also reflect U.N. principles of "common but differentiated responsibilities" towards lowering harmful greenhouse gas emissions, he added.

Malaysia Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz said APEC should not be dealing with emission targets at all.

"I'm saying it is not the place to discuss the whys and the wherefores of climate change and what kind of agreement and so on. It should be the U.N. and the appropriate forums," she told Malaysian journalists.

"We don't want people to use climate change as an issue to target certain countries or penalize certain countries."

Ministers from the Philippines and Indonesia have also questioned the approach.

A major meeting of top officials from around the world under the U.N. framework is set for Indonesia's Bali in December. Governments hope environment ministers will launch a two-year series of talks to find a replacement for the Kyoto agreement.


Australia, as host of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, has put climate change at the top of the agenda.

Its draft declaration calls for a new global framework that would include "aspirational" targets for all APEC members on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say is causing the climate to change.

Australia, backed by the United States, says the Kyoto protocol, the world's main climate change treaty, is flawed because it does not commit big polluters in the developing world, such as India and China, to the same kind of targets as industrialized nations.

That approach is getting a decidedly lukewarm response at the APEC meeting from China and developing countries, which prefer to see the whole issue handled under the U.N. framework.

Kyoto's first phase runs out in 2012 and the APEC summit is one of a growing number of efforts to find a formula that brings rich and developing countries together on climate change.


Hu met U.S. President George W. Bush later in the day and talked about China's currency, whose weakness has been an irritant in Sino-U.S. relations.

After an hour-and-a-half meeting with Hu, Bush said: "We talked about Iran and North Korea and Sudan. We talked about climate change and our desire to work together on climate change."

Hu has had a warm reception since his arrival in Australia on Monday, when he visited the mining-rich state of Western Australia before heading to Canberra and a tour of a sheep farm.

But in Sydney, religious group Falun Gong staged a protest against China's human rights record that attracted more than a thousand people in Sydney's Hyde Park.

Australia has launched its biggest ever security operation in Sydney to welcome the 21 leaders attending this week's APEC meetings. Newspapers have dubbed the city of more than 4 million people "Fortress Sydney".

At his news conference, Hu said China was ready to boost international cooperation to ensure its export products met appropriate safety standards.

Food safety was also highlighted at the APEC ministerial meeting, which established an APEC Food Safety Cooperation forum, co-chaired by Australia and China.

The initiative aims to harmonize APEC members' food safety regulations with international standards, among other things, and to explore ways to expand this work to include other products.

(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch, Jalil Hamid, Matt Spetalnick and Richard Pullin)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Delta Ecosystem Collapse: California Must Find an Alternative Water Source Say Fishermen

From: Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

San Francisco, CA ”“ The most important estuary on the west coast of North and South America is in immediate danger of ecological collapse if water diversions are not sharply cut, a commercial fishing organization warned today.

On the heels of a Federal Court decision last Friday in Fresno ”“ ordering a reduction in diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta - the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) today called on the Governor and Legislature to begin developing alternatives to Delta water in order to save the fish of the estuary and finally provide the state with a reliable water supply.

“Judge Oliver Wanger’s ruling should have come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to water and the environment in California,”said Pietro Parravano, a Half Moon Bay fisherman who served on the State’s Bay-Delta Advisory Committee and was a member of the Pew Oceans Commission. “We were warned twenty years ago - following hearings by the State Water Board - the Delta was being over drafted by an average 1.6 million acre-feet a year.

In recent years that overdraft was probably much higher. Is it any surprise fish populations are collapsing?”asked Parravano.

The fishing group accused California administrations over the past two decades, as well as the Legislature and water leaders, of being in a state of denial, thinking they could continue, or even increase the levels of diversions from the Delta and its tributaries without anyone noticing the destruction to the environment.

“They just kept denying the problem and finding ploys to study away the clear science that estuaries ”“ our most biologically productive water bodies ”“ require freshwater inflow,” continued Parravano. “They were no different than the tobacco industry that denied the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, or the oil and coal industries that denied the link between greenhouse gasses and global warming. It’s seemed like denial was the biggest river in California.”

“It’s not just the Delta and longfin smelt that are in trouble here,” said Larry Collins, president of San Francisco’s Crab Boat Owners Association. “The lower than predicted salmon returns to the Sacramento River last year, when there was almost no fishing, and the poor catches so far this year may mean that the west coast’s second largest salmon run - that migrates from the Pacific through the Bay and Delta to the Sierra streams - is also feeling the impact of a collapsing Delta.”

In addition to the Central Valley’s Chinook salmon, that supplies 90 percent of California’s catch and provide the majority of salmon taken offshore Oregon and Washington as well, the Bay and Delta provide one of the largest nursery areas for Dungeness crab, and is home to the largest herring fishery south of British Columbia. The Bay and Delta, too, have historically supported large recreational fisheries for sturgeon, striped bass and shad. PCFFA warns all this could be lost if steps are not taken to save the Delta.

Collins said he welcomed the leadership of the Governor on the water issue, but warned that a peripheral canal and reservoirs are not the answer.

“We need 21st century solutions, not the failed ideas of the 1950’s like reservoirs that lose much of their water to evaporation or an isolated canal stealing high quality Sacramento River water from the Delta.” Collins had harsh words for the Peripheral Canal, which was first proposed to help save fish nearly 50 years ago when the State was considering barriers in the Delta blocking fish passage. “What we’ve learned over the years is that the water agencies ”“ and I don’t care if they’re state or federal - can’t be trusted,”Collins emphasized. “In 1992 we were promised 800,000 acre-feet of water each year under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act for fish and wildlife. Well we’ve had to fight each year to get it and often don’t and then they [Bureau of Reclamation] steal it in the Delta before it ever gets to the Bay.”

Collins continued, “as for the state, it’s hasn’t even offered to make up its half of the 1.6 million acre deficit. And, you want us to trust them to make releases from a canal for the Delta? Forget it! Once it’s in that canal, its headed straight south to the big water contractors on the Westside of the San Joaquin and Southern California.”

More than half of all Californians currently depend on the Delta or its tributaries for their drinking water. The Delta’s watershed provides the flows to irrigate Central Valley agriculture.

Even without the fishery and environmental concerns, the fishing group warns the Delta is an increasing unreliable water source. Predictions are, with global warming, the Sierra snow pack whose melt provides flow to the Delta will be substantially less. Sea level rise will exacerbate saltwater intrusion into the Delta. Moreover, the fishing group says, the area is vulnerable to a major Earthquake affecting its levies and water delivery infrastructure. Developing alternative sources to the Delta, they say, is the only way to ensure a dependable water supply for the state.

PCFFA’s Executive Director, Zeke Grader, who serves on the State’s “Delta Vision” Blue Ribbon Stakeholder Committee said the State should look first to the California Water Plan Update

“Providing assistance to communities and agriculture to save water is one of the most effective and least expensive things we can do right now,” said Grader. “We don’t need expensive reservoirs that will be useless in any kind of prolonged drought, or a $26 billion dollar Peripheral Canal, euphemistically called an ”˜isolated facility.’”

Grader said water recycling and reuse is also more cost effective than new reservoirs and a canal and could help to curb sources of polluted runoff. He said reestablishing flood plains, to allow rivers places to go during winter high flows, coupled with incentives for groundwater recharge would be the best way of using nature’s “natural storage - instead of environmentally damaging surface reservoirs that lose supply to evaporation. Groundwater recharge will also help to maintain stream flows.

“Finally,”Grader said, “it’s time to stop wasting money studying again and again ill-advised reservoirs and canals and invest in research for the development of environmentally friendly desalination systems.” The fishermen recommend the state provide seed money to some of its best universities for research to make California the world leader in desalination technology, much as it is doing with stem cell research. Desalination, Grader said, is California’s hedge against multi-year droughts - a way to keep water in stream for fish and to maintain flows to farms for prudent irrigation practices.

“We have a huge water resource in our front yard, called the Pacific Ocean,” said Grader. “Investing in research we should be able to take water safely from the ocean, utilize solar energy - which is in ample supply in much of the state - to remove the salts from the water, and then develop a use for that salt or safely store it.”

The fishing group mentioned beach wells as an example of a safe intake system for desalination plants. They suggested piping seawater inland where there is ample sunlight for solar powered desalination could do the desalination process itself. The waste brines they say could then be dried and safely stored, in lieu of potentially toxic discharges back into the ocean. Dual use facilities such as combination wave energy and desalination processes they say should be considered, too, in the mix of alternative water sources.

Parravano concluded for the group, saying, “It’s not enough for California to reduce its carbon footprint, leadership also means preparing for impacts from global warming that we can’t avoid. Part of that is preparedness is water planning. We’re not going to solve California’s water crisis, or save its fish by trying to repackage bad old ideas calling it ”˜thinking outside the box.’ A true solution requires bold vision and leadership. It also requires the ability to understand the basic principle that water is necessary to sustain California’s fisheries and coastal communities.”


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