Saturday, September 15, 2007

U.S. climate research program hampered by delays, panel says

International Herald Tribune, France

A government wide climate research program started five years ago by the Bush administration has been plagued by delays and has not devoted enough resources to studying the effects of climate change or to disseminating the findings, an independent scientific panel has found.

But the program has clarified some scientific questions, according to a report issued by the National Academies, the pre-eminent scientific advisory group in the United States.

The Climate Change Science Program, created in 2002 by President George W. Bush to improve climate research across 13 government agencies, has also been hampered by priority shifts, the panel found. Those shifts have led to the grounding of Earth-observing satellites and the dismantling of programs to monitor environmental conditions on earth, the report concluded.

In a printed statement, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, the chairman of the panel, said that the basic scientific efforts of the program have constituted "an important initiative that has broadened our knowledge of climate change."

Among other things, the report noted, the effort has helped resolve disputes over whether the earth's atmosphere is warming significantly or not, allowing scientists to compare data and agree that warming is occurring.

But the report cited more problems than successes in the government's research program. Of the $1.7 billion spent by the program on climate research each year, only about $25 million to $30 million has gone to studies of how climate change will affect human affairs, for better or worse, the report said.

The 15-person panel was made up of scientists from universities and two companies, BP and DuPont.

John Marburger III, the White House science adviser, issued a statement Thursday thanking the science academies for a "thoughtful review" and saying that several issues highlighted in the report "are already being addressed."

The panel found that program delays had been common: only two of the program's 21 planned overarching reports on specific climate issues have been published in final form, and only three more are in the final draft stage. And not enough effort has gone toward translating advances in climate science into information that is useful to local elected officials, farmers, water managers and others who may potentially be affected by shifts in climate, whatever the cause of those shifts, the panel found.

One problem, the panel noted, is a lack of communication between government researchers and officials, industries or communities that could be affected, Ramanathan said in an interview. "We don't know what they need and they don't know what we can provide," he said, referring to the government's science effort.

A major hindrance to progress, the panel's report said, is that the climate program's director and subordinates lack the authority to determine how money is spent.

It also emphasized the risks posed by changes in government priorities that have shifted focus away from earth-observing satellites and ground-based monitoring projects like efforts to track snowpack and stream flows.

Wet and hungry, Africans flee "worst floods in living memory"

International Herald Tribune, France

Kampala, Uganda: Torrential downpours and flash floods have affected more than a million people across the African continent, displacing hundreds of thousands, killing at least 150 and submerging whole towns and villages in some places. On Saturday, the U.N. warned more rains and an outbreak of disease may be on the way.

"The rains are set to continue and we are really concerned about the situation, because a lot of people are homeless and infectious diseases could emerge," said Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

So far, nine people are reported to have died and 150,000 have been made homeless in eastern Uganda since August. Another 400,000, mainly subsistence farmers, have lost their livelihoods after their fields were flooded or roads washed away and the rains are forecast to worsen in the next month.

"The problem is getting worse by the hour. Access to some communities is almost impossible. We will need boats and helicopters to deliver emergency interventions," said Minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru, who spent Saturday viewing the affected areas by plane.

Uganda's neighbors are also affected. Hundreds of thousands need aid in Kenya and Ethiopia, which was devastated by flooding last year as well.

In Sudan, refugees who had just returned at the end of a brutal civil war had to flee their homes through waist-high waters. The government said they are "the worst floods in living memory," 119 people have died and tens of thousands are homeless. The death toll may rise as much of its vast swampland is inaccessible except by air.

The problem stretches across the continent, to at least 17 countries, said Byrs. People need clean water after their normal sources were contaminated, and emergency food and shelter after fields and houses were washed away.

But some of the damage will take longer to repair. In the tiny west African nation of Togo, 20 people are dead and 66,000 displaced after a deluge washed away 100 bridges and 7 dams in the last week. The waters also destroyed 46 schools and some college buildings, forcing authorities to postpone the start of the school year.

French military helicopters from the peacekeeping mission in nearby Ivory Coast, which has also been affected, have been deployed to help airlift government-provided food and medical supplies to the needy.

Neighboring Ghana has also been heavily hit, with three regions in the north of the country, traditionally its breadbasket, declared an official disaster zone after whole towns and villages were submerged. Torrential rains between July and August killed at least 18 persons and displaced a quarter of a million, Information Minister Oboshie-Sai Cofie said on Saturday.

"It is a humanitarian disaster. People have nowhere to go. Some of them are just hanging out there waiting for help to come," Cofie said. However, she said that the Ghanian government had received considerable aid and hoped the situation would improve.

In Burkina Faso, Amade Belem, who heads the country's national emergency management agency, said maize and millet farms were ruined but, "our main concern is rehousing the population. We need food and medical supplies because it goes without saying that the conditions in which these people are living, there will be no shortage of disease."

Five of the country's 13 regions have been affected and local media say the floods are the worst here since 1954.

In the oil giant of Nigeria, 68 people have died and 50,000 are affected, according to the Red Cross. Even the desert nations of Niger, Mali and Mauritania have been hit.

In some parts of Africa, local officials say deforestation has exacerbated the problem.

Charles Ngiratware, the mayor of western Nyabihu district, said nearby Gishwati forest used to hold in far more floodwater and flash floods were not common. The forest was 21,000 hectares in size in 1981, but pressure to clear land for farming means it was only 600 hectares by 2002.

"The reason the rains devastated this district is because of the deforestation of Gishwati natural forest," he said. Fifteen people, mainly women and children, have drowned after flash floods in his district this week.


Associated Press Writers Ebow Godwin in Lome, Togo; Brahima Ouedraogo in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Ahmed Mohamed in in Nouakchott, Mauritania; Kimenyi Felly in Kigali, Rwanda; Kwasi Kpodo in Accra, Ghana; and Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva, Switzerland contributed to this report.

Floods in Africa kill dozens and wipe out crops

From: Jeremy Clarke -Reuters

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Floods from torrential rains have caused the deaths of at least 80 more people, displaced thousands, and devastated crops and livestock across sub-Saharan Africa, officials said on Friday

Often prone to drought, East and West Africa also frequently endure floods in August and September, the end of the rainy season.

In the worst-hit nations in East Africa, at least 63 people died in Ethiopia, 15 in Rwanda and nine in Uganda, governments and aid agencies said.

Hailstorms and landslides have compounded the problems, while thousands of families have fled to flimsy shelters, the new school term has been severely disrupted, and the risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera and malaria was growing.

The United Nations said severe floods across West Africa had affected 500,000 people in 12 countries, wiping out crops and homes there as well.

Outbreaks of water-borne diseases and swarms of crop-eating locusts are feared, the latter in both Mali and Niger, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

"Conditions are ripe for an infestation," OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva.

The affected countries are Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. About half of those affected live in Ghana, OCHA said.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said earlier this month at least 87 people had been killed in flooding in West Africa, mostly in Nigeria, in the past two months.


In Ethiopia, the federation said its team in the East African country had reported that at least 63 people had died from acute watery diarrhea in the flood-hit Oromia region, with a total of 3,680 cases reported last month.

The U.N. World Food Programme earlier said in a statement 17 people had died in the floods in Ethiopia, "while some 4,000 head of livestock have been drowned or washed away, and 34,000 hectares of land has been damaged."

The floods have affected 183,000 people in north Ethiopia, and displaced 42,000, WFP added.

"Food distributions have started to the women, children and men hardest hit by the floods and WFP will work with the concerned authorities to do whatever needs to be done," said WFP Ethiopia country director Mohamed Diab.

The Red Cross federation appealed for nearly $800,000 to help the flood victims there.

Rwanda said the floods had killed 15 people and left about 1,000 homeless after downpours since Wednesday in the north.

Local Government Minister Protais Musoni told Reuters the Northern Province had also suffered hailstorms and landslides, which had destroyed livestock and property.

In Uganda, the floods have killed nine, driven scores from their homes and closed schools, authorities said.

State Minister for Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru told Reuters a week of torrential rains had devastated the war-stricken north of the country.

"The floods have made an already bad situation worse. The people who had been displaced by insurgency have had their camps swept away by floods," Ecweru said. "Several communities have been cut off and we cannot access them."

(Additional reporting by Francis Kwera in Kampala, Arthur Asiimwe in Kigali, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva)

Businesses and Water Shortages: A Drought of Risk Management

From: Anne Moore Odell, Green Money Journal

"It's raining it's pouring, the old man is snoring . . . " goes the old nursery rhyme. However, the "old man" in this case is the business community that is asleep over the consequences of not considering long-term water issues. A report from the newly launched Marsh Center for Risk Insights states that less than 20% of Fortune 1000 companies surveyed are prepared for a water shortage crisis.

The Marsh Center for Risk Insights was created by Marsh Inc., a large US insurance broker and risk advisor with 395 offices in 85 countries. The Marsh Center was developed as a think tank to analyze important global business risks. Their new survey polled senior officials from over 100 Fortune 1000 companies. Public Opinion Strategies, headquartered in Alexandria, VA, conducted the telephone survey.

The founding advisors for the Marsh Center are heavily politically conservative, but with profound experiences in a number of different governmental, academic and business backgrounds. They include Dean Alexander, Philip Armstrong, Carol Browner, Dr. Sheikh Faisal F.J. Althani, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Dr. Howard Kunreuther, Harvey Pitt, and Andrew Winston.

Water shortage was singled as one of the most looming threats for companies in the near future. Forty percent of those surveyed believed that a water shortage would be severe or catastrophic for their business operations. Companies across industrial sectors could be affected by water shortage issues directly and indirectly through their supply chains, with even non-water intensive companies realizing higher costs as suppliers deliver higher costs. The Marsh Center reports that water-related costs are rising with manufacturers paying to treat both source water and wastewater.

"Climate change will most likely exacerbate this trend, so that intense, longer droughts like those we've experienced in the American West and in southern Europe will become more common," said Neal McGarity, Senior Vice President Corporate Communications for Marsh. "Meanwhile, the global demand for water is increasing. The point is that companies need to plan now for the impact of water shortages on their business operations."

Although nearly half of businesses surveyed replied that water was important for daily operations, only 6% responded that in the next five to ten years there would be significantly less access to water. This belief that the water will be available for companies in the short term is not necessarily based on risk management analysis.

In August, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) held a "World Water Week" conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Some of the conclusions from the meetings are that businesses need to include shareholders, local residents, governments, and other stakeholders in discussions about water. Furthermore, businesses need to seriously study their assumptions around water usage. WBCSD also points out the need for more accurate and complete water data to enable companies to better focus their water management efforts.

"For most companies, water does not appear on the bottom line yet. But for many it may be the biggest risk in the future," said JÃrg Gerber, Chief Operating Officer for WBCSD. "Water has always been seen as 'free from nature' and has not been given its correct value. Water is also a very complex issue, meaning what seems to be a simple value, like water use at a site, is actually not so straightforward," he added.

WBCSD has recently launched the Global Water Tool to help companies map out their water use and assess their risks globally. WBCSD also hopes that it encourages more companies to put water risk management in place. WBCSD suggests businesses need to put plans into place now to mitigate the risk of water shortages. Such plans include increasing efficiency, working with communities and potential global markets, and understanding life cycle of water used in their products and services.

The Marsh Center survey also asked companies about seven other potential risk situations besides water shortage, including natural disasters, terrorist attacks, oil price spikes, global climate change, housing market collapse, risks associated with nanotechnology, and pandemics. Although the Marsh Center results state there are a "growing number of threats" to businesses, 44% of those surveyed said that one of the major reasons they weren't prepared for a crisis is because the risks didn't seem relevant to their businesses.

"The fact that a large segment of senior executives felt in June (when the survey was conducted) that the housing market did not pose a significant risk--but, as we know from today's headlines here in September, the risks associated with the housing market is now causing great concern globally--especially the subprime aspect of mortgage lending," McGarity told

The Marsh Center disagrees with this short-term view of business operations. Dr. Howard Kunreuther, Marsh Center founding advisor and Co-director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the Wharton School, said, "A number of business leaders today are taking a short term view of risk and operating under the false assumption that even though these risks are on the horizon, they don't need to act on them promptly. While these decisions may not affect them in their term of office, it could have dire effects on their successors and those connected to their companies years later."

Given the nature of the risks related to water, astute investors and analysts will need to be careful readers of corporate reports to understand if and how companies consider risk preparations, the Marsh Center notes.

US states win right to set carbon target

By Leonard Doyle in Washington
The Independent, UK

The US state of Vermont has won a landmark victory in the battle against global warming being waged at local level across America in defiance of the Bush Administration.

A federal judge has ruled against an alliance of US and European car companies seeking to kill off Vermont's tough new greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. The regulations are modelled on California's groundbreaking pollution standards for cars which were adopted in the teeth of opposition from President George Bush.

Earlier this year the US Supreme Court recognised for the first time the phenomenon of global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects upon the environment. Now, the courts have said that, as a result, individual states have the authority "to monitor and regulate emissions", in effect to adopt tougher rules than those at than federal level on carbon dioxide pollution from cars.

Irate car manufacturers hope to have the ruling overturned in a higher court. They had sued Vermont saying it was usurping federal authority by passing its own laws to limit the sale of polluting vehicles.

California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the Vermont ruling an "important victory in the fight against global warming." The car industry should "stop wasting millions on legal fees and start paying their engineers to build these cars to be cleaner", said David Bookbinder, of the Sierra Club environmental organisation.

The ruling will quicken the pace of change to further reduce emissions. California has been leading the way in forcing polluting industries to reduce their emissions, despite the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to do so.

Congress has deemed that California alone – traditionally to the fore in fighting pollution – can draw up rules on pollution that are tougher than federal standards. Other states have the right to follow the tighter California standards, once approved.

Car companies, including Daimler-Chrysler complained bitterly that the cost of meeting these goals meant that few if any of US-made cars and trucks would be sold in Vermont by 2016. But Judge William Sessions rejected a variety of challenges from auto manufacturers, including their contention that the states were.

"It is improbable that an industry that prides itself on its modernity, flexibility and innovativeness will be unable to meet the requirements of the regulation, especially with the range of technological possibilities and alternatives currently before it," he wrote.

He was also dubious of claims that as many as 65,000 jobs would be lost across the country if California's pollution standards were taken up by other states.

In 2002, California became the first US state to force car companies to start reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. It has subsequently set some of the strictest standards in the world. Vermont adopted the same standards, as did other states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which brought the lawsuit in Vermont, is planning an appeal.

"The court's opinion is a sweeping rejection of the auto industry's claim that California and other states" lack authority to regulate heat-trapping gases, Richard J Lazarus, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC told The New York Times.

The world's leader... for pollution

Among the world's top economies, the US still stands out as the number one polluter. With just 5 per cent of the world's population, the US is the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases and responsible for almost a quarter of global emissions of carbon dioxide. Motor vehicle emissions are one of the leading causes of air pollution, with China, the US, Russia, Mexico and Japan the world leaders in emissions. However, squeaky clean Canada is the number two country, ranked per capita. The worst pollution sources include chemical plants, coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, nuclear waste disposal, incinerators, large livestock farms, plastic and metal production and other heavy industry.

Arctic sea route opens

From: Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - The Arctic's Northwest Passage has opened up fully because of melting sea ice, clearing a long-sought but historically impassable route between Europe and Asia, the European Space Agency said.

Sea ice has shrunk in the Arctic to its lowest level since satellite measurements began 30 years ago, ESA said, showing images of the now "fully navigable" route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

A shipping route through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic has been touted as a possible cheaper option to the Panama Canal for many shippers.

"We have seen the ice-covered area drop to just around 3 million square km," said Leif Toudal Pedersen of the Danish National Space Centre, describing the drop in the Arctic sea ice as "extreme".

The figure was about 1 million sq km (386,870 sq miles) less than previous lows in 2005 and 2006, Pedersen added.

The Northeast Passage through the Russian Arctic remained partially blocked, but in the light of the latest developments it may well open sooner than expected, Pedersen said.

Polar regions are very sensitive to climate change, ESA said, noting that some scientists have predicted the Arctic would be ice free as early as 2040.

Almost all experts say global warming, stoked by human use of fossil fuels, is happening about twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere on the planet. Once exposed, dark ground or sea soak up far more heat than ice and snow.

September and March generally mark the annual minimum and maximum extent respectively of Arctic sea ice.

The ESA announcement on its Web site came amid a scramble for sovereignty rights in the Arctic.

Russia, which recently planted its national flag on the seabed beneath the ice of the North Pole, has been staking its claim to a large chunk of the resource-rich Arctic region.

Countries such as Russia are hoping for new shipping routes or to find oil and gas.

Canada has also been pressing its Arctic sovereignty claim and has announced plans for a deep-water port at Nanisivik near the eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage, which will allow it to refuel its military patrol ships.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bangladesh: Life on the edge

For centuries, the farmers of Bangladesh's sandy chars have eked out an existence at the mercy of South Asia's great rivers. But as temperatures rise, time is running out for them

By Peter Popham

The Independent, UK

Life on the watery margins of Bangladesh is the poor man's Las Vegas. You can start with nothing and, if the heavens smile on you, within a couple of years you can be the master of what looks like a prosperous little farm, in one of the most wildly fertile corners of the planet. Then weeks later you can lose the whole lot to the floods.

The risks and the rewards of life on the delta's fissiparous edges have been of this order for centuries. But with global warming the odds are steadily worsening. More than 600,000 people live on these margins, and their lives are getting more precarious every year. With changing climate, the flooding grows ever more extreme and unpredictable, the rivers even wilder. At the same time a general rise in the ocean's level threatens the viability of the entire watery way of life: fresh water goes brackish, threatening drinking water and water for the crops and livestock. The line between survival and destruction grows ever finer.

Every year the waters of South Asia's great rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra (known locally as the Padma and the Jamuna), come thundering down into Bangladesh from India and Tibet, bearing millions of tons of silt. At any point in their progress, whether slow, stately and corpse-encrusted at Benares or roaring like an express train through Assam, these vast rivers inspire awe. They feed and fertilise a subcontinent, and by the time they reach the last stage of their journey to the Bay of Bengal they are rampant and rampaging and the land is no match for them. They toy with it, tear it this way and that, carve new courses every year, create islands in the rivers one year, destroy them the next or 10 years later or even 20. A river that is a single mighty course one year, within a couple more can turn into a watery braid, dotted with islands.

And Bangladesh's poorest farmers grow fat or thin, prosperous or desperate, according to the rivers' whims. If you are a poor Bengali peasant and you have nothing at all and a family to feed, the chars are the place to head: sandy riverine islands or peninsulas created by the rivers' caprice. For the peasants without land, these sandy knobs are land without people, fresh-minted, claimed by no landlord or government, free of gates and fences, there for the taking.

What grows on sand? Not much, but sand can be shovelled into boats and sold to the construction industry in Dhaka. Or the sand can be mixed with the fertilising silt from the Himalayas: within months catkin grass begins to bed into it, providing thatch for the roofs of new huts, fences (fashioned from the stems) fodder for cattle, shelter for the huts of the betel nut farmers. When it is dry you can burn it for fuel. When the char floods you pile the grass into high mounds where the cattle can take refuge from the water.

Then the catgrass decomposes and draws in more silt and the wondrous fertility of the delta works its magic, and on the land that was water emerge banana palms, bamboo, jackfruit, guava, mango. In the West we hear nothing from Bangladesh but dire news of the country's poverty and misery. Then you pay the place a visit and once out of the toxic hell of Dhaka it's the garden of Eden, a riot of fecundity. On land that never existed before, and that cost nothing, and on which no title deeds existed nor ever will. It's the Big Rock Candy Mountain, South Asia style.

But then there is the price to pay. Because it's easy come and easy go. You live by the water and die by it too. There is absolutely no knowing how long a char can keep its head above the water. So there are crops, quick and easy trees, flimsy huts. But no pukka houses, no roads, no schools, no infrastructure at all. It's life on the edge. You might be there, reaping the catgrass, plucking the mangos for years. Or next week your life and the lives of your family could be in dire jeopardy – as the roaring river changes its mind. Then scrambling into the flimsy boats to find a new-made char elsewhere and start all over again.

The people of the chars are the most vulnerable of all in a country that is one of the most at risk as the climate heats up. The Intercontinental Panel on Climate Change indicates that a one metre rise in sea level "could displace nearly 15 million people" from their homes in Bangladesh – more than twice as many as in the whole of India; 30,000 square kilometres of land could disappear permanently. The char-dweller's poker game is steadily changing into Russian roulette.

Greenland is now a country fit for broccoli growers

The climate is changing so quickly that a land of hunters is becoming one of farmers and fearful scientists

  • The Guardian, UK

After a summer of catastrophic flooding in Britain, it would be encouraging to see the conference season as an opportunity for British politicians to move from the highly rhetorical to the real in their climate change policies. The reaction of some Conservatives, however, to the relatively modest suggestion that airport expansion in Britain should be halted, or that those who pollute should pay, is a reminder that there are still people who suffer from the delusion that doing nothing on climate is an option, or that inaction will somehow guarantee that things stay the same. Eric Rode Frederiksen knows different.

Eric is rotund, white-haired - and clear-eyed on the subject of climate change. He was born 80 years ago in the village of Qassiarsuk in Subarctic Greenland, where an earlier Eric, the Nordic Viking Eric the Red, first established a colony in the 10th century.

One legend has it that Eric was so desperate to entice others to join him that he lied about the inhospitable nature of the vast island of rocky mountains and deep valleys. He sent word that he had found a "green land" fit for settlement. Fifteen ships did follow him, and the Viking settlement lasted nearly 500 years.

The legend does Eric a disservice. The slopes the Vikings settled were, indeed, green, and the accumulated topsoil testifies to long periods of fertility in the past. Eric and his people farmed sheep and grew potatoes, supplementing their diets with fishing and hunting. It was when the climate cooled, 400 years later, narrowing the margin of possible agriculture in southern Greenland to zero, that the Viking settlement failed and farming disappeared for 500 years. In the 20th century, Eric Rode Frederikse's father became the first Greenlander since the Vikings to give sheep farming another go. Today, 65 families are making a living as farmers in southern Greenland, the growing season is a month longer than before, and people have begun to plant little gardens. This summer, they tasted their first Greenland-grown broccoli.

As the Vikings failed in the south, in north Greenland the Inuit were thriving, equipped with effective technology and the hunting skills needed to live off the rich Arctic animal life. But two years ago, for the first time, the Greenland government had to fly dog food to the far north, emergency relief for the starving hunting dogs of the Arctic Circle. Today, Greenland's Inuit hunting communities are facing extinction.

The uneven effects of climate change are not lost on the Greenlanders. If the ice loss is a disaster for the Arctic hunters, Greenland as a whole is sitting, literally, on a gold mine. The gold is already being mined, and other resources are beckoning from the melting ice fields. Oil majors are quartering the territory, looking for fresh supplies. The aluminium giant, Alcoa, is negotiating to open three smelters in Greenland to take advantage of a bonanza in hydro-electric power. In settlements inside the Arctic Circle, where thousands of dogs still sit tethered and restless, waiting for ice that no longer comes, Greenlanders are about to be catapulted into an industrial age.

They have little choice but to adapt. In the Arctic, the mirror of life for the rest of the planet, things are now changing at a dizzying pace that far outstrips the cautious estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or even the expert assessments of the Arctic Council. For instance, the sea around Ilulissat, the biggest town in Arctic Greenland, always froze between December and the end of May. It has not frozen at all for the last three years. The IPCC predicted an ice-free Arctic by the end of the century; some scientists now predict it for 2020. Ten years ago, it was thought that the Greenland ice cap - 11,000 feet high in some places - would take centuries to melt. Now, the pace of melting of the ice cap, and the unpredictable interaction of the feedback loops such melting may trigger, makes any firm prediction hazardous. In Greenland they know human civilisation is already entering unknown territory.

Robert Corell, a US-based Arctic scientist and member of the IPCC, described what he had found three weeks ago on a visit to the ice cap. "I spent four months on the ice cap in 1968 and there was no melting at all," he told participants in the Symposium on Religion, Science and Environment in Greenland this week. "Now it's dramatic. There are thousands of moulins - holes that go down into the ice. You can hear water roaring and gurgling. Nobody knows now how quickly it will melt, but the palaeo-data tells us that at three degrees warmer than at present, the ice cap will melt. The projections for global temperature increases are now between three and four degrees."

Greenlanders have waited a long time for prosperity and, bizarrely, climate change may bring it, ending the need for the present annual subsidy from Denmark of $10,500 a year for each of Greenland's 55,000 inhabitants - equivalent to roughly half the Greenland national budget. Future economic promise is fuelling an independence movement; but for the rest of the world, Greenland's melting ice threatens catastrophe. So vast is the Greenland ice sheet that it works as a regional air conditioner. The albedo effect - the reflection of 80% of the sun's heat by the snow and ice - keeps temperatures in the region cool. But as the ice melts, the dark seas and the bare rock surface absorb heat, further accelerating melting and triggering sea level rises that will inundate, among other places, the Nile Delta, much of San Francisco and 40% of Bangladesh.

Arctic scientists are having to tear up their recent predictions and start again. "This is all unprecedented in the science," Corell explains. "Until recently we didn't believe it possible, for instance, for water to permeate a glacier all the way to the bottom. But that's what's happening. As the water pools, it opens more areas of ice to melting."

"For the last 10,000 years," Corell says, "we have been living in a remarkably stable climate that has allowed the whole of human development to take place. In all that time, through the mediaeval warming and the Little Ice Age, there was only a variation of 1C. Now we see the potential for sudden changes of between 2C and 6C. We just don't know what the world is like at those temperatures. We are climbing rapidly out of mankind's safe zone into new territory, and we have no idea if we can live in it."

Window to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change Closing.

From: , Worldwatch Institute

Washington, D.C.—Consumption of energy and many other critical resources is consistently breaking records, disrupting the climate and undermining life on the planet, according to the latest Worldwatch Institute report, Vital Signs 2007-2008.

The 44 trends tracked in Vital Signs illustrate the urgent need to check consumption of energy and other resources that are contributing to the climate crisis, starting with the largest polluter, the United States, which accounted for over 21 percent of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in 2005. Europe, already feeling the effects of climate change, should pressure the U.S. to join international climate negotiations, according to Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs Project Director.

“The world is running out of time to head off catastrophic climate change, and it is essential that Europe and the rest of the international community bring pressure to bear on U.S. policy makers to address the climate crisis,” said Assadourian, who spoke at the Barcelona launch of Vital Signs. “The United States must be held accountable for its emissions, double the per capita level in Europe, and should follow the EU lead by committing to reducing its total greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.”

This summer, the European Union has become a showcase for how the world will be transformed by climate change, including tragic fires in Greece and the Canary Islands, dramatic floods in England, and heat waves across the Continent. Assadourian urged European leaders to push the U.S. to engage more constructively with the international community on climate change, starting at the United Nations late this month and in the Bali Climate negotiations at the end of the year.

With a global population of 6.6 billion and growing, the ecosystem services upon which life depends are being stretched to the limit due to record levels of consumption:

* In 2006, the world used 3.9 billion tons of oil. Fossil fuel usage in 2005 produced 7.6 billion tons of carbon emissions, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 380 parts per million.

* More wood was removed from forests in 2005 than ever before.

* Steel production grew 10 percent to a record 1.24 billion tons in 2006, while primary aluminum output increased to a record 33 million tons. Aluminum production accounted for roughly 3 percent of global electricity use.

* Meat production hit a record 276 million tons (43 kg per person) in 2006.

* Meat consumption is one of several factors driving soybean demand. Rapid South American expansion of soybean plantations could displace 22 million hectares of tropical forest and savanna in the next 20 years.

* The rise in global seafood consumption comes even as many fish species become scarcer: in 2004, 156 million tons of seafood was eaten, an average of three times as much seafood per person than in 1950.

The expanding world population’s appetite for everything from everyday items such as eggs to major consumer goods such as automobiles is helping to drive climate change, which is endangering organisms on the land and in the sea:

* The warming climate is undermining biodiversity by accelerating habitat loss, altering the timing of animal migrations and plant flowerings, and shifting some species towards the poles and to higher altitudes.

* The oceans have absorbed about half of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans in the last 200 years. Climate change is altering fish migration routes, pushing up sea levels, intensifying coastal erosion, raising ocean acidity, and interfering with currents that move vital nutrients upward from the deep sea.

* Despite a relatively calm hurricane season in the U.S. in 2006, the world experienced more weather-related disasters than in any of the previous three years. Nearly 100 million people were affected.

While U.S. carbon emissions continue to grow, the fastest growth is occurring in Asia, particularly China and India. But without a U.S. commitment to emissions constraints, persuading China and India to commit to reductions is unlikely. “The only hope for reducing the world’s carbon emissions is for the U.S. to begin reducing its emissions and cooperating with other nations immediately. The EU may be the only entity that can make that happen,” said Assadourian.

“With the U.S. Congress preparing to take up far-ranging climate legislation this fall, and with President Bush planning to hold an international climate change summit in Washington, now is the time to act. If the U.S. and other nations walk away without concrete plans to implement a binding agreement, the EU should not hesitate to use its diplomatic clout to press the issue,” suggested Assadourian.

Already, the window to prevent catastrophic climate change appears to be closing. Some governments are starting to redirect their attention away from climate change mitigation and towards staking their claims in a warming world. “Canada is spending $3 billion to build eight new patrol boats to reinforce its claim over the Arctic waterways. Denmark and Russia are starting to vie for control over the Lomonosov Ridge, where new sources of oil and natural gas could be accessed if the Arctic Circle becomes ice free—fossil fuels that will further exacerbate climate change. These actions assume that a warming world is here,” said Assadourian.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stark warning of extinction list: 'Life on Earth is disappearing'

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

The Independent, UK

Gorillas, vultures, corals, Asian crocodiles and even seaweeds are joining thousands of other species on the slide towards extinction, according to the latest edition of the Red List, the international catalogue of threatened wildlife, published yesterday.

In the past 12 months there have been nearly 200 to the list, which is published by the Swiss-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), taking the number of threatened species worldwide from 16,118 to 16,306.

This means that one in four of the world's mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70 per cent of the world's assessed plants on the current list are in now in jeopardy. "Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken," the IUCN said yesterday.

The Red List is recognised as the most reliable evaluation of the conservation status of the world's species. It classifies them according to their extinction risk, through the categories extinct, critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable. Once an organism is classified as critically endangered, extinction is very close.

A grim statistic contained in the latest list is that the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) has moved from endangered to critically endangered, after the discovery that the main subspecies, the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), has been severely depleted by the commercial bushmeat trade, and the Ebola virus.

Their population has declined by more than 60 per cent over the past 20 to 25 years, with about one third of the total population found in protected areas killed by the Ebola virus over the past 15 years.

The change has been revealed in a depressing reassessment of the status of the great apes, which shows the orang-utan, in particular, to be in desperate trouble. The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) remains in the critically endangered category and the Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) in the endangered category. Both are threatened by habitat loss due to illegal and legal logging and forest clearance for palm oil plantations. In Borneo, the Red List says, the area planted with oil palms increased from 2,000 sq km to 27,000 sq km between 1984 and 2003, leaving just 86,000 sq km of habitat available to the species throughout the island.

Another striking feature of the new list is that corals have been assessed and added to the list for the first time. Ten species from the Galapagos islands have entered the list, with two in the critically endangered category and one in the vulnerable category. Wellington's solitary coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni) has been listed as critically endangered (possibly extinct).

The main threats to these species are the effects of the El Niño warm water phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, and climate change. In addition, 74 seaweeds from the Galapagos have been added to the list, 10 of them listed as critically endangered, with six of those highlighted as possibly extinct. The coldwater species are threatened by climate change and the rise in sea temperature that characterises El Niño. The seaweeds are also indirectly affected by overfishing, which removes predators from the food chain, resulting in an increase of sea urchins, and other herbivores that overgraze the algae.

The Gharial crocodile (Gavialis gangeticus), found in India and Nepal, is also facing threats from habitat degradation, and it too has moved from endangered to critically endangered. Its population has declined by 58 per cent, from 436 breeding adults in 1997 to just 182 in 2006. Dams, irrigation projects, sand mining and artificial embankments have all encroached on its habitat, reducing its domain to just 2 per cent of its former range.

Asia faces a further wildlife crisis with enormous declines in its populations of vultures, which are important as scavengers. The declines have been driven by the use on cattle of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is fatal to the birds when they consume it in cattle carcasses. The red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) has moved from near-threatened to critically endangered, while the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) has moved from least concern to endangered.

One of the saddest accounts of all concerns China's Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, (Lipotes vexillifer), which was thought to be the world's rarest mammal, but may now have gone completely. After an intensive, but fruitless, search last November and December, it has been listed as critically endangered (possibly extinct).

The dolphin has not been placed in a higher category as further surveys are needed before it can be definitively classified as extinct. A possible sighting in late August 2007 is currently being investigated by Chinese scientists. The main threats to the species include fishing, river traffic, pollution and degradation of habitat.

Some good news...

There is one ray of hope in this year's Red List – the improving position of one of the world's rarest birds, the echo parakeet from Mauritius. Destruction of its forest habitat through farming and the spread of introduced species such as feral pigs, devastated its numbers, and by the end of the 1970s there were only 10 or so known individuals. But a captive breeding programme, run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Government of Mauritius, with the support of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the World Parrot Trust, saw 139 captive birds returned to the wild between 1997 and 2005, and this has successfully re-established the population.

Can this really save the planet?

We are constantly told to switch the TV off standby, recycle our plastic bags and boil less water - but does focusing on the small, easy steps distract us from the bigger picture, asks George Marshall

Why is everyone so keen to believe that tiny actions can prevent climate change? We are given easy household tips by campaigners and the government that will help "save the climate". You know the kind of thing - recycle your plastic bags, turn your telly off standby, bring your own cup to work. There is usually a little clutch of them attached to the latest grim news about climate change: it's not all bad news, they plead, you can take these simple steps today and they really do "make a difference".

But do they? Take the plastic bags, for example. We are pestered to re-use them or use designer "bags for life" instead. People get very worked up about this topic. There are eight online petitions on the No 10 website calling for them to be banned or taxed, Ireland has imposed a special bag tax, and a town in Devon has banned them outright.

Yes, they are ugly, wasteful and deadly to turtles. But their contribution to climate change is miniscule. The average Brit uses 134 plastic bags a year, resulting in just two kilos of the typical 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide he or she will emit in a year. That is one five thousandth of their overall climate impact.

And then there is the issue of electronics on standby. This is an attractive example of consumer waste culture and has been aggressively challenged by, among others, the Conservative's Quality of Life Group, which publishes its environmental policy document today. But it is hardly a major source of emissions. The electricity to keep the average television on standby mode for a whole year leads to 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. It's more than plastic bags, but still very marginal: 0.2% of average per capita emissions in the UK.

Here's another tip that sounds more substantial: fill your kettle with the right amount of water. The government made this one of the core messages of its "Are You Doing Your Bit?" campaign in 1999. A very small bit as it turns out. According to the government's own figures, even if you are constantly boiling full kettles this will save all of 100 kilos of carbon dioxide a year, less than 1% of average per capita emissions.

Please don't misunderstand me. All of these actions are worth doing as part of a greener lifestyle. And I do all of them - I also turn off my tap when brushing my teeth, share my baths, and watch the telly in the dark - wearing three jumpers if need be. But it is a serious distortion to imply, as the top 10 lists of green living usually do, that there is any equivalence between these lifestyle preferences and the serious decisions that really reduce emissions - stopping flying, living close to work and living in a well-insulated house, for example.

Judging by the latest Mori poll data, people have already acquired a severely distorted sense of priorities. Forty per cent of people now believe that recycling domestic waste, which is a relatively small contributor to emissions, is the most important thing they can do to prevent climate change. Only 10% mention the far more important goals of using public transport or reducing foreign holidays.

The easy tips also undermine the wider message on the seriousness of climate change. In its report Warm Words, on climate-change messaging, the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) argues that simple actions "easily lapse into 'wallpaper' - the domestic, the routine, the boring, the too-easily understood and ignorable". The IPPR is especially critical of headlines such as "20 things you can do to save the planet from destruction" and said that putting trivial measures alongside alarmist warnings can lead people to "deflate, mock and reject the very notion of climate change".

Lest you think I am being harsh, look at this from a different point of view. Imagine that someone came up with a brilliant new campaign against smoking. It would show graphic images of people dying of lung cancer followed by the punchline: "It's easy to be healthy - smoke one less cigarette a month."

We know without a moment's reflection that this campaign would fail. The target is so ludicrous, and the disconnection between the images and the message is so great, that most smokers would just laugh it off.

So why then do well-intentioned schools, councils and green groups - and let's face it, Live Earth was an eight-hour tip-fest - persist in promoting such ineffectual actions?

Their logic is as follows. Simple actions capture people's attention and provide an entry-level activity. Present people with the daunting big-ticket solutions and they turn away. Give them something easy and you have them moving in the right direction and, in theory, ready to make the step up to the next level.

That is the theory, but, as plentiful social research confirms, it doesn't work. For one thing, making the solutions easy is no guarantee that anyone will carry them out. The government spent £22m on the Do Your Bit campaign and has subsequently admitted that it produced no measurable change in personal behaviour.

And there is a greater danger that people might adopt the simple measures as a way to avoid making more challenging lifestyle changes. With recycling, Mori concluded that it was becoming an act of "totem behaviour" and that "individuals use recycling as a means of discharging their responsibility to undertake wider changes in lifestyle". In other words, people can adopt the simplest solutions as a part of a deliberate denial strategy that enables them to feel virtuous without changing their real behaviour.

Governments and businesses are, if anything, even more prone to tokenistic behaviour than individuals. Encouraging small voluntary actions by the public, customers or staff looks good and is much safer than passing restrictive legislation or rethinking your entire business model.

So what we need is a sense of proportion. The great advantage that climate change has over other pressing issues is that the gases that cause it can be measured down to the last gram. People can make informed decisions in the knowledge that, say, a return flight to Australia will have the same climate-change impact as 730,000 plastic bags or 176,000 overfilled kettles.

We also need to rethink the way we talk about climate change. It is insulting to assume that people can only be energised with the pint-sized options. We need to present all lifestyle changes as part of a radical vision for a smart, healthy and just 21st century. And let's be clear that voluntary action will never be enough - we will need radical political, economic and social change. So let's start by doing away with that wretched phrase "you can save the planet"

· George Marshall is the founder and director of projects at the Climate Outreach and Information Network ( Read Bibi van der Zee's response to this article at

Experts: Climate change puts sea at risk

From: Ariel David -Associated Press

ROME --Climate change is affecting Europe faster than the rest of the world and rising temperatures could transform the Mediterranean into a salty and stagnant sea, Italian experts said Wednesday.

Warmer waters and increased salinity could doom many of the sea's plant and animal species and ravage the fishing industry, warned participants at a two-day climate change conference that brought together some 2,000 scientists and officials in Rome.

"Europe and the Mediterranean are warming up faster than the rest of the world," said climatologist Filippo Giorgi. "It's a climate change hot spot, one of the areas where we actually see the change happening."

Scientists still don't know why the region is more sensitive to climate change, but Giorgi said that in the next decades, temperature increases hitting Europe during the summer months could be 40 percent to 50 percent higher than elsewhere.

Giorgi said the effects would be similar to those felt during the deadly summer of 2003, when the extraordinary heat was blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Europe and millions of dollars in agricultural losses.

"That was a one-in-a-million freak event, but in the future it will be the norm for the summer," said Giorgi, who is a top official in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. network of 2,000 scientists.

The change is also being felt at sea level, with a surface temperature increase of 1 degree every decade, said Vincenzo Ferrara, an Italian government adviser on climate.

"The Mediterranean is becoming warmer and saltier" due to increased evaporation, Ferrara told the conference, which was held at the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Ferrara said this could disrupt the flow at the Strait of Gibraltar, a key gateway to the Mediterranean. The higher salt concentration in the Mediterranean would cause water to flow out into the Atlantic Ocean, as opposed to Atlantic water coming into the Mediterranean, which serves as the sea's lifeline.

Even more worrying, a study conducted by ICRAM, Italy's marine research institute, indicates the temperature increases are creeping into the cold depths of the Mediterranean.

Measurements conducted last winter off Italy's western coast at a depth of up to 300 feet showed temperatures were about 3.6 degrees above average.

Temperature differences between the sea's layers create the currents that allow the Mediterranean's waters to mix and bring up fresh nutrients to feed the algae that form the basic diet of most fish species, according to the study.

These temperature rises could wipe out "up to 50 percent of the species," the study said. The decline in the algae population measured last winter also reduced by 30 percent the sea's ability to absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases blamed by scientists for heating the atmosphere like a greenhouse.

Tuvalu about to disappear into the ocean

From: Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) - The tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu on Thursday urged the rest of the world to do more to combat global warming before it sinks beneath the ocean.

The group of atolls and reefs, home to some 10,000 people, is barely two meters on average above sea-level and one study predicted at the current rate the ocean is rising could disappear in the next 30 to 50 years.

"We keep thinking that the time will never come. The alternative is to turn ourselves into fish and live under water," Tuvalu Deputy Prime Tavau Teii told Reuters in the South Korean capital where he was attending a conference on the environment.

"All countries must make an effort to reduce their emissions before it is too late for countries like Tuvalu," he said, calling the country one of the most vulnerable in the world to man-made climate change.

He reeled off a list of threats to the country, one of whose few export earnings comes from its Internet country suffix which it can sell to anyone wanting their Website site to end with .tv.

Coral reefs are being damaged by the warming ocean and so threatening fish stocks -- the main source of protein.

The sea is increasingly invading underground fresh water supplies, creating problems for farmers, while drought constantly threatened to limit drinking water.

Annual spring tides appear to be getting higher each year, eroding the coastline. As the coral reefs die, that protection goes and the risk only increases.

And the mounting ferocity of cyclones from a warmer ocean also brought greater risks, he said, noting another island state in the area had been buffeted by waves three years ago that crashed over its 30 meter cliffs.

"We'll try and maintain our own way of living on the island as long as we can. If the time comes we should leave the islands, there is no other choice but to leave."

Teii said his government had received indications from New Zealand it was prepared to take in people from the islands. About 2,000 of its population already live there.

But Australia, the other major economy in the region, had only given vague commitments.

"Australia was very reluctant to make a commitment even though they have been approached in a diplomatic way."

Hurricane Humberto slams into Texas

From: Jeff Franks -Reuters

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Hurricane Humberto rumbled onto the upper Texas coast on Thursday with 85 mile per hour (135 kph) winds and heavy rains that threatened widespread flooding.

The storm, which brewed up in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, made landfall near High Island, about 30 miles northeast of Galveston, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a report at 3:10 a.m. EDT (0710 GMT).

Humberto had been expected to come ashore as a tropical storm, but suddenly strengthened in the gulf's warm waters.

It struck a lightly populated area, and there were no reports of damage or injuries. The storm was expected to plow through southeastern Texas and head east into Louisiana, where officials braced for flooding.

Humberto was a minimal, Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but forecasters said it could dump up to 15 inches of rain because it was dawdling along at just 8 mph (13 kph).

Galveston reported 5 inches of rain as Humberto eased past on Wednesday, headed toward the Texas-Louisiana border.

A hurricane warning was in place from High Island to Cameron, Louisiana, which was still recovering Hurricane Rita in 2005. Rita struck the Texas-Louisiana border region three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Humberto was the third hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, and was dwarfed by its ferocious Category 5 predecessors Dean and Felix.

They struck Mexico and Central America, respectively, with Felix leaving at least 130 dead.

Texas and Louisiana officials positioned emergency teams and rescue equipment in the path of Humberto.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency while Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed to "work with local officials to provide the state resources necessary to ensure the safety of all Texas residents."

The Texas-Louisiana border area is a major oil-producing and gasoline-refining area, but industry officials predicted little impact to operations.

The hurricane center said at 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT) another storm, Tropical Depression 8, was located 1,005 miles (1,620 km) east of the Lesser Antilles islands of the eastern Caribbean Sea and moving west-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

It had not yet strengthened as expected, but was likely to become a tropical storm on Thursday, forecasters said.

The ‘Feel Good’ Approach to Climate Distortion
by Joe Brewer

An article published today in the science section of the New York Times clearly demonstrates the importance of frames and narratives when discussing important political issues. John Tierney’s article “Findings: ‘Feel Good’ vs. ‘Do Good‘ on Climate” is currently among the most popular articles of the day. This widely read article is filled with distortions, redirections, and spin designed specifically to undermine public acceptance of one of the gravest threats we face as a global community

Several months ago, I critiqued a similar Times article by William J. Broad in my response, When Climate Message is Strong, Attack the Messenger!

Like Broad, Tierney seems intent on undermining the strong public acceptance of the significance of the climate crisis. He does this with the help of Bjorn Lomborg , a person whose expertise in statistics has been very helpful at distorting facts through the manipulation of numbers.

Set the Stage with Heroes and Villains

The persuasive power of Tierney’s creation lies in the story it tells. He starts out with the line “After looking at one too many projections of global warming disasters… I was ready for a reality check.” A hidden message lurks in this opening line. Here is a translation of the story implicit in his opening statement:

Alarmist environmentalists are naïve children who don’t really know what is going on. They are out of touch with reality. They have repeatedly bombarded us innocent victims with tales of disaster and doom.

Now we know who the villains are. All those pesky people who express concern about global warming are bad. They cannot be trusted. So who can we trust? Enter Bjorn Lomborg, an ‘expert’ in political science who has stood firm against environmentalists for years. He is the “scourge of environmentalist orthodoxy” - Tierney’s way of painting environmentalists as religious fanatics who refuse to give up their dogmatic ways. (One could instead interpret Lomborg’s steadfastness in the face of an entire community of experts as being dogmatic.)

The heroes go on a quest. But it is “not an arduous expedition.” Translation: “It is easy to show that the villains are wrong.” All you have to do is walk over to the Brooklyn Bridge and look at the water down below. Simple. But the story is just beginning.

Treat Future Events as “More of the Same”

A typical technique used by climate contrarians is to frame projections of likely future events as predictions and call climate scientists foolish for predicting the future. Tierney goes the other way and frames future events as reflections of the past. Check out this quote:

“Since record-keeping began in the 19th century, the sea level in New York has been rising a foot per century, which happens to be about the same increase estimated to occur over the next century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
(emphasis added)
He does more than claim numerical equivalence. That alone would merely be inaccurate (the average of all scenarios for sea level rise over the next century is closer to 1.5 feet, but could be as high as 3 feet). Instead, he goes further to imply that the rise in sea level over the last century didn’t cause any harm. Therefore, another increase of the same amount will have the same consequence. Clever sleight-of-hand, isn’t it? He does the same thing with temperature:

“The temperature has also risen as New York has been covered with asphalt and concrete…that’s estimated to have raised nighttime temperatures by 7 degrees Fahrenheit. The warming that has already occurred locally is on the same scale as what’s expected globally in the next century.”
(emphasis added)
Tierney’s understanding of global temperature would earn him a failing grade in any physical science class. The warming in a small area (a city) for a short duration (overnight) is vastly different from the warming of the entire planet averaged over several decades. We can deduce that Tierney either sucks at physics (and doesn’t have the sense to ask a real expert) or he is intentionally seeking to mislead people.

He goes on to say that “the impact of these changes on Lower Manhattan isn’t quite as striking as the computer graphics.” This reinforces the misconceptions he has just peddled while undermining the credibility of the science. In effect, this is saying that dramatic pictures are exaggerations, in truth things aren’t so bad!

Learning a Lesson

We are meant to learn that “the lesson from our expedition is not that global warming is a trivial problem.” This is a classic example of negating a frame to reinforce it. It is like saying “don’t think of a white horse,” which immediately evokes imagery of billowy white manes and tails on four-legged beasts. Tierney has Lomborg agree that “global warming is real and will do more harm than good,” thus framing global warming as having unspecified beneficial properties that are not too bad after all.

And what would these heroes have us do to address a problem that is not “trivial”? We are told that “the best strategy, he says, is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York” and “buy air conditioners.” That will fix everything.

This solution emerges because the problem has been trivialized by Tierney when he pointed out a few “confounding factors” that even Al Gore couldn’t see. The first is “that winter can be deadlier than summer.” This frame hides the deadly truth that droughts are strongly contributing to famine, disease, and destabilization of the entire horn of Africa. The climate crisis will impact people everywhere, not just in the north where winters can be harsh. The second is “that the weather matters a lot less than how people respond to it.” We could take away from this the lesson that we should respond to the climate crisis as a serious threat, but that isn’t what he has in mind.

Technology to the Rescue (Only the Wealthy Need Apply)

So we should buy air conditioners. Just pretend they don’t run on electricity from fossil fuels. The global warming pollution involved is not a problem. Why is this a good thing? Because it doesn’t hurt the economy! (Finally, the truth creeps out.)

Tierney goes on to say that “preparing for the worst in future climate is expensive” and we shouldn’t do anything about it because it will mean “less money for the most serious threats today.” Unspecified threats are deemed more important than the climate crisis, implicitly undermining its significance. At the same time, the false dichotomy of environment against economy has reared its ugly head.

What’s worse, we are meant to infer that only wealthy U.S. cities matter. The ‘big problems’ Tierney wants us to focus on are giving “urbanites a break from the hot summer” and “reducing the urban-heat-island effect.” We should just ignore the impacts of global warming on all those starving Africans. Or that we can’t protect 17 million people who live at sea level in Bangladesh. He completely misses the fact that the climate crisis is a moral issue. The world’s poor and disenfranchised will be hit hardest by global warming, not the wealthy cities of the United States.

A Peaceful Ending to a Simple Quest

How does the story end? Lomborg and Tierney are “sitting safely dry and cool inside the Bridge Café.” All is well and there is nothing to worry about. In this little comfort zone, Lomborg reminds us that we should think of the children:

“I don’t think our descendants will thank us for leaving them poorer and less healthy just so we could do a little bit to slow global warming. I’d rather we were remembered for solving the other problems first.”
By presenting past change as equivalent to what is in store, coupled with simplistic solutions to the wrong problems, we should solve ‘real’ problems that have not been specified.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of this nonsense. Six months ago I wrote this:

“Each day we fail to take responsibility for the mess we are in compromises our communities. Each day we fail to empathize with all creatures great and small we damage the health of our planet. Each day we fail to recognize our common good reduces the common wealth we have to share with each other. Why isn’t this message printed in the New York Times today? That’s what I want to know.

Isn’t it finally time to transcend this kind of madness?”

That pretty much sums it up for me.

Joe Brewer is a fellow at The Rockridge Institute

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Code red for threatened species

From: World Wildlife Foundation 7

Gland, Switzerland ”“ The planet is being pushed to its limits as indicated by the increasing number of threatened species across the globe, according to the latest trends in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN’s) Red List.

The Red List of Threatened Species acts as a barometer that shows the effects habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, pollutants and climate change are having on our planet.

“We’re at code red,”said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

“It’s about time people stopped talking and realized this is not a game. The very future of our planet ”“ and the environment we leave to our children ”“ hangs in the balance. Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that got it so wrong?”

Species loss

According to WWF, the loss of species is a clear warning for humans. Sound ecosystems which include clean fresh water, safe seas and healthy forests with robust species populations, are critical to the livelihoods and survival of people.

WWF applauds IUCN for drawing attention to this situation and calls on governments to take immediate, concrete, action to address some of the root causes of species extinction.

WWF believes that the IUCN’s Red List classifications should be used as a tool to assist in prioritizing focus for limited resources.

For example, the western gorilla has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered. The upgrade in status on the list should highlight the plight of these gorillas, whose population numbers prove the need for urgent attention to combat commercial hunting and further understand and prevent ebola outbreaks.

Orang-utans are also under extreme threat, primarily due to destruction of their habitat for activities such as the creation of oil palm plantations. WWF and its partners have issued new guidelines to ensure that oil palm plantations are better situated and managed more effectively to prevent conflict between the animals and humans. It is critical that oil palm companies in orang-utan range states take these on board.

Freshwater dolphins are suffering a dismal fate globally due to dam-building, entanglement in fishing nets, boat traffic and pollution. In 2005, WWF launched a River Dolphin Initiative with governments, other non-governmental organizations, industry, fishermen, and local communities to reduce or eliminate the threats to river dolphins and porpoises.

Overexploitation of species for food, medicine, pets and other human uses is a direct driver of species loss. The impact of international trade on wildlife is tremendous, and when it is not properly regulated it causes rapid declines, as seen for some of the species highlighted by the IUCN’s Red List, particularly reptiles from North America.

New listings

Corals are also on the list for the very first time.

"The fact that corals are now present on the IUCN’s Red List should sound warning bells to the world that the oceans are in trouble", said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF's Global Marine Programme.

Coral reefs are crucial as nursery grounds for thousands of species of fish and invertebrates, and provide revenue and livelihoods from fishing and tourism for a large proportion of the world's growing coastal population.

Corals across the world are being decimated by unsustainable and destructive fishing and by the effects of climate change. WWF believes that unless the world acts urgently, the corals now listed will soon be accompanied by yet more species, and a loss of revenue for dependent communities.

Political will

“World leaders have made various commitments to halt biodiversity loss, but this crisis has largely fallen off political agendas," Dr Lieberman added.

"Attention and funding have shifted to economic development and long-term security — without adequate attention to the link between these issues, a healthy environment, and truly sustainable development. It’s time to make the connections.”

WWF believes the IUCN Red list is an important science-based conservation tool that should be used across the globe by communities, governments and international fora to drive funding and decision making. Reversal of the negative trend is possible when political motivation is high and when local communities see the value and benefit from conserving species.

The Red List is developed by a voluntary network of IUCN Species Specialist groups. WWF works in close cooperation with IUCN across the globe, through field interventions and by providing financial and technical support to the various Species Specialist groups of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Toxic chemicals blamed for the disappearance of Arctic boys

The Independent, UK

By Daniel Howden in Nuuk, Greenland

Twice as many girls as boys are being born in remote communities north of the Arctic Circle. Across much of the northern hemisphere, particularly in the US and Japan, the gender ratio has skewed towards girls for the first time.

Now scientists working with Inuit villages in Arctic Russia and Greenland have found the first direct evidence that this trend is linked to widespread chemical pollutants. Despite the Arctic's pristine environment, the area functions as a pollution sink for much of the industrialised world. Winds and rivers deliver a toxic tide from the northern hemisphere into the polar food chain.

Scientists have traced flame-retardant chemicals used in everything from industrial products to furniture, phones and laptops to the food chain, finding high levels of these pollutants in seabirds, seals and polar bears. The Inuit have traditionally relied on a hunter- gatherer's diet almost exclusively made up of marine animals, making them especially vulnerable to toxic pollutants.

Historically in large populations, it is considered normal for the number of baby boys slightly to outnumber girls in a trend believed to compensate naturally for greater male mortality rates.

But a peer-reviewed US study found an unexpected drop in the proportion of boys born in much of the northern hemisphere. The missing boys would number more than 250,000 in the US and Japan, using the gender ratio at the levels recorded up until 1970.

The researchers suspect-ed that this linked widespread exposure among pregnant women to hormone-mimicking pollutants. But Danish scientists examined 480 families in the Russian Arctic and found high levels of the hormone-mimicking pollutants in the blood of pregnant women, and twice as many girls being born as boys.

They are now studying similar communities in Greenland and Canada and although full results will be published next year, their initial findings exactly match those in Russia.

Lars Otto Riersen, a marine biologist, pollution expert and an executive with the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (Amap), says: "When you see such things happening in the Arctic, it may happen here first, in the same way as climate change did."

Although the nature of the Inuit diet is believed to have triggered the disturbing ratios in the Arctic, a similar pattern may be emerging further south. Until now, the only evidence of the impact of these toxins was circumstantial. The most skewed ratio had been in Canada, where a First Nation community in Sarnia lives amid Ontario's petrochemical industry, and the number of boys born has plunged since the 1990s. The fallout from the toxic cloud in Seveso in Italy in 1976 allowed scientists to monitor dramatic impacts on both the gender ratios and numbers of babies born.

Every year in the industrialised world, household fires cause billions of pounds worth of damage, and chemical flame retardants designed to curb this are big business. They contain a host of chemicals some of which mimic human hormones. These chemicals became notorious in the 1960s and a worldwide ban on one category, PCBs, was introduced after tests showed they had entered the food chain with potentially lethal consequences for humans and animals. But the chemicals industry continues to produce variations of the retardants, which scientists claim are not subject to the long-range testing required.

Dr Jens Hansen, leader of Amap research, said they were finding incredibly high levels of banned PCBs among a cocktail of other hormone-mimicking chemicals in pre-natal mothers. Pregnant mothers, he said were ingesting these hormone-mimicking chemicals in their diet and passing them through the placenta where they influenced the gender of the foetus or killed male foetuses.

Aleqa Hammond, Greenland's Foreign Minister, says: "We heard from scientists four years ago that our heavy metal consumption is dangerous." She adds wryly: "If you ate me, you would die."

Aqqaluk Lynge, head of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said they were trying to raise the alarm internationally but nobody was listening. "People don't want to talk about such a critical question. We are talking about our people's survival which is very alarming."

Greenland, the world's largest island and still a dependency of Denmark, now has the highest proportion of women in the world.

Global warming impact like "nuclear war": report

From: Jeremy Lovell -Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Climate change could have global security implications on a par with nuclear war unless urgent action is taken, a report said on Wednesday.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) security think-tank said global warming would hit crop yields and water availability everywhere, causing great human suffering and leading to regional strife.

While everyone had now started to recognize the threat posed by climate change, no one was taking effective leadership to tackle it and no one could tell precisely when and where it would hit hardest, it added.

"The most recent international moves towards combating global warming represent a recognition ... that if the emission of greenhouse gases ... is allowed to continue unchecked, the effects will be catastrophic -- on the level of nuclear war," the IISS report said.

"Even if the international community succeeds in adopting comprehensive and effective measures to mitigate climate change, there will still be unavoidable impacts from global warming on the environment, economies and human security," it added.

Scientists say global average temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to burning fossil fuels for power and transport.

The IISS report said the effects would cause a host of problems including rising sea levels, forced migration, freak storms, droughts, floods, extinctions, wildfires, disease epidemics, crop failures and famines.

The impact was already being felt -- particularly in conflicts in Kenya and Sudan -- and more was expected in places from Asia to Latin America as dwindling resources led to competition between haves and have nots.

"We can all see that climate change is a threat to global security, and you can judge some of the more obvious causes and areas," said IISS transnational threat specialist Nigel Inkster. "What is much harder to do is see how to cope with them."

The report, an annual survey of the impact of world events on global security, said conflicts and state collapses due to climate change would reduce the world's ability to tackle the causes and to reduce the effects of global warming.

State failures would increase the gap between rich and poor and heighten racial and ethnic tensions which in turn would produce fertile breeding grounds for more conflict.

Urban areas would not be exempt from the fallout as falling crop yields due to reduced water and rising temperatures would push food prices higher, IISS said.

Overall, it said 65 countries were likely to lose over 15 percent of their agricultural output by 2100 at a time when the world's population was expected to head from six billion now to nine billion people.

"Fundamental environmental issues of food, water and energy security ultimately lie behind many present security concerns, and climate change will magnify all three," it added.


"Manufactured Landscapes" SEE THIS BRILLIANT MOVIE! You'll never have the same shopping experience again.