Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bird deaths stir oversight for U.S. wind power

From: Leonard Anderson, Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The growing U.S. wind power industry is drawing increased scrutiny from states and the federal government over the problem of spinning wind turbines killing birds.

The California Energy Commission last week adopted voluntary guidelines to reduce wind energy effects on wildlife, and Washington state, Montana and Texas among other states are reviewing measures.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior, also is developing voluntary procedures for wind projects, a spokeswoman said.

Wind power, which is expected to increase by 26 percent in power generating capacity this year, is mostly unregulated in the United States except by county boards, city councils and local planning commissions.

Wind energy accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation's electricity supply -- enough power to serve 3 million households.

A study issued by the National Academy of Sciences in May said the percentage of birds and bats killed by collisions with wind towers and spinning turbine blades was small compared with kills from vehicles and buildings.

No one knows the actual number of birds killed by wind turbines, but estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 a year, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

The wildlife group, in testimony to Congress in May, estimated that adding more wind power over the next 20 years to help meet a goal of 20 percent renewable energy supplies by 2030 could kill 900,000 to 1.8 million birds a year.

The California measures aim to help wind developers site and build emissions-free energy while protecting wildlife, said Julia Levin, global warming climate change director for the National Audubon Society.

"Without guidelines, controversies and conflicts between wind developers and wildlife groups will only get worse and slow down projects and make it harder to get financing," Levin said in an interview.


The California steps tell counties and cities what is needed to comply with the state's Environmental Quality Act and how to meet other laws, including state and federal wildlife measures, the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and endangered species laws.

The California Energy Commission and the state's Department of Fish and Game began work on the guidelines after the CEC published a report on bird deaths at one of the biggest wind farms in the nation.

The study estimated that as many as 4,700 birds from 40 different species, including 1,300 protected raptors, were killed annually by turbine blades at the Altamont Pass wind center about 50 miles east of San Francisco.

Altamont Pass is along a Pacific Coast migratory path for raptors and near a nesting area for golden eagles, hawks, falcons and owls.

The yearly death toll included more than 100 golden eagles plus red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls, kestrels and meadowlarks, according to the Audubon Society.

FPL Energy, the largest U.S. wind energy company, and other developers at Altamont Pass are working to cut bird deaths in half by 2009 and joining with the Audubon Society and local government to come up with a long-term environmental protection plan, said Elizabeth Murdock, executive director of Golden Gate Audubon.

The plan's key efforts are "repowering" Altamont Pass with fewer but more efficient wind turbines with high blades that spin above the birds' flight paths, and shutting down part of the wind farm during winter.

Florida-based FPL Energy has set a goal of adding between 8,000 and 10,000 megawatts of new wind power in the U.S. by the end of 2012.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Activist Ted Glick on 32nd Day of “Climate Emergency Fast” to Protest Washington Inaction on Global Warming

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Ted Glick is the coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council. He is on the 32nd day of a fast to protest the failure of lawmakers in Washington to address climate change. [includes rush transcript]
The United Nations emergency relief coordinator has warned the world has seen a record number of floods, droughts and storms caused by climate change this year. Sir John Holmes told the Guardian newspaper that the dire predictions about the impact of global warming on humanity were already coming true.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has issued a record 13 emergency appeals this year. All but one of the appeals dealt with a climate-related disaster.The UN believes 66 million people were made homeless or were affected by the catastrophic flooding in Asia this year. Just this week, the UN issued a call for emergency funds for Ghana, where flooding has left more than 400,000 people homeless.

Our next guest, Ted Glick, is the coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council. He is on the 32nd day of a fast to protest the failure of lawmakers in Washington to address climate change. Ted Glick is also helping to organize the No War, No Warming action in Washington on October 22.

  • Ted Glick. Coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council and is on the 32nd day of a Climate Emergency Fast. He is helping to organize a No War, No Warming nonviolent civil disobedience action on Capitol Hill on October 22nd.


AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations emergency relief coordinator has warned the world has seen a record number of floods, droughts and storms caused by climate change this year. Sir John Holmes told the Guardian newspaper the dire predictions about the impact of global warming on humanity were already coming true.

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has issued a record thirteen emergency appeals this year. All but one of the appeals dealt with a climate-related disaster. The UN believes 66 million people were made homeless or were affected by the catastrophic flooding in Asia this year. Just this week, the UN issued a call for emergency funds for Ghana, where flooding has left more than 400,000 people homeless.

Our next guest, Ted Glick, is the coordinator of the US Climate Emergency Council. He is on the thirty-second day of a water-only fast to protest the failure of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to address climate change. Ted Glick is also helping to organize the No War, No Warming action in Washington on October 22. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ted.

TED GLICK: Thank you, Amy. I appreciate it.

AMY GOODMAN: I saw you in Newark, New Jersey at an antiwar protest. You are a lot thinner now. How much weight have you lost?

TED GLICK: I lost about thirty pounds.

AMY GOODMAN: Where are you doing this?

TED GLICK: One thing I do want to correct: I fasted on water only for twenty-five days; since then I’m now onto liquids. I’m taking fruit and vegetable juices and miso broth, but I am continuing the fast. I have no plans for when I’m going to end it.

This is a climate emergency fast that was begun on September 4th, the day that the US Congress came back into session after its summer recess. Both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid said prior to the opening of that fall session that they wanted to have global warming legislation passed this fall. It should be noted, Nancy Pelosi said when she came into office back in January that she wanted to have global warming legislation passed by July 4th. That didn’t happen.

It should also be noted that this summer, there were two versions of a energy bill passed: one by the Senate, one by the House. They're not the same. It’s now a month. It’s now a month since this Congress came back, and nothing is happening as far as moving forward to try to reconcile the two versions of that energy bill. Neither -- the Republicans are dragging their feet, and the Democrats are not using the power that they have to move this forward.

As far as global warming legislation, there are committees that are meeting, there a variety of different pieces of legislation that have been introduced. The best one, the strongest one, is the Safe Climate Act, as it’s called in the House. It has 140 co-sponsors, introduced by Henry Waxman. It would reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050 and begin the process within a year or two of passage of reducing emissions, which is absolutely what we have to do.

But it’s committee work that’s going on. I went to Capitol Hill about two weeks ago. I went around to about fifteen offices in the House and the Senate, talking to key people who are involved in these efforts to come up with climate legislation. I came away from that convinced that barring basically a grassroots political uprising, barring people in this country demanding of their senators and their congress people that they get it on the urgency of this crisis, that we will be lucky to see any bill coming out of committee and onto one of the floors of Congress before sometime next year. There is no sense of urgency about the climate crisis. Just as we see with the war, there is no sense of the need to get our troops out and to take whatever actions are necessary, when it comes to the Democratic Party leadership and the few Republicans who are willing to also move in that direction. So there is a need for, quite frankly, more extreme actions.

I’ll admit that a fast is extreme. It’s something you do -- a lot of fasts tend to come from prisoners. I was in prison myself during the Vietnam War for about a year. My first hunger strike was with Father Philip Berrigan during my time in Danbury Federal Prison. That’s where usually hunger strikes come from. But I became involved with this action, and other people have participated in this action, because in many ways we are in a prison right now. We have a federal government that is ignoring the needs of the American people, conducting an illegal war, doing very little in terms of responding to the urgency on climate crisis, on one issue after the other. We are in many ways in a prison. So this fast is a way of saying, “Let's step it up. Let's move the agenda. Let's do more than we’ve done.” That’s what I’m trying to get across in the strongest way that I know how.

AMY GOODMAN: And your plan for October 22nd?

TED GLICK: October 22nd is the primary action that No War, No Warming is organizing here in Washington, D.C. There will be many hundreds, hopefully thousands, of people, who on that Monday, on a day that Congress is in session, are going to be up on Capitol Hill. We’re going to be erecting windmill blockades in intersections. We’re going to be sitting in front of doors. There will be bicycle blockades. There will be various creative nonviolent actions to let this Congress know that people are really outraged at the lack of action on the war, the lack of action on global warming, the lack of action on putting resources into New Orleans, rebuilding the Gulf Coast, putting resources into communities that need them, healthcare, education. It goes right down the line. These people need to understand we’re angry, we’re not going to just sit back and do the same old things. We’re willing to step it up. We’re willing to use our bodies. That’s what I’m doing with this fast and what I hope many other people will do in the ways that they can and join with us on October 22nd in D.C., as well as around the country. There’s actions around the country, part of No War, No Warming. There’s more information at our website,

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, Ted Glick. Thank you for joining us, coordinator of the US Climate Emergency Council on the thirty-second day of a climate emergency fast. Please take care of yourself.

To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program, click here for our new online ordering or call 1 (888) 999-3877.

Worst floods to hit Africa in decades

Floods hit large parts of Africa
Media Blackout of disaster in West
Al Jazeera, Qatar

International aid agencies are calling for more help as floods continue to devastate large areas of Africa.

Dozens have died and an estimated one million people have been affected by the prolonged rains.

In the east of the continent, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda are the worst hit countries, with at least 87 people dead. Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda have also been affected.

After days of heavy rain, tributaries that flow into the Nile have burst their banks, flooding villages in Uganda's Lira district.

The heaviest rainfall in 35 years has displaced at least 150,000 people in eastern Uganda, and, according to authorities, the rain has been "worsening by the hour".

Crops destroyed

Rising flood waters have resulted in as many as 400,000 people losing their livelihoods due to crops being destroyed, Musa Ecweri, the state minister for relief and disaster preparedness, said.

Nine peope died after being washed away by floodwater or struck by lightning during violent storms.

Ecweru said the death toll was expected to rise, with rain still falling across large areas of the region.

Niels Scott, from the International Federation for the Red Cross in Geneva, told Al Jazeera: "We've already started... to provide shelter equipment, mosquito nets and tarpaulin.

"Many of them have lost their houses... they've lost grain stores, they've lost their livelihoods.

"They're looking at a very grim six months. They've got the immediate future to worry about and then they've... got to prepare for the next growing season."


Aid organisations have stepped up efforts to get food and clean water to villagers, but landslides triggered by additional rainfall have washed away roads and aid access is currently limited, officials said.

Gilbert Buzu of the World Food Programme, said: "You will find water flowing over the bridge and in some areas people are using dugout boats to cross the bridge and, of course, that makes it very impossible for the trucks to move through."

The UN is expected to send helicopters and boats to boost relief efforts.

Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sudan are also affected, with hundreds of thousands now at risk of water-borne disease.

Ghana floods

In West Africa, 12 countries are flood-affected, with Ghana and Nigeria sustaining the heaviest damage.

Eighteen people are reported to have been killed after floods hit dozens of villages in northern Ghana.

Local residents said the death toll may rise further.

More than 250,000 people have reportedly lost their houses in the floods.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Climate change disaster is upon us, warns UN

· Emergency relief chief calls for swift action
· 12 out of 13 'flash' appeals in 2007 related to weather

A record number of floods, droughts and storms around the world this year amount to a climate change "mega disaster", the United Nation's emergency relief coordinator, Sir John Holmes, has warned.

Sir John, a British diplomat who is also known as the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said dire predictions about the impact of global warming on humanity were already coming true.

"We are seeing the effects of climate change. Any year can be a freak but the pattern looks pretty clear to be honest. That's why we're trying ... to say, of course you've got to deal with mitigation of emissions, but this is here and now, this is with us already," he said.

As a measure of the worsening situation, Ocha, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - part of the UN secretariat that employs Sir John - has issued 13 emergency "flash" appeals so far this year. The number is three more than in 2005, which held the previous record.

Two years ago only half the international disasters dealt with by Ocha had anything to do with the climate; this year all but one of the 13 emergency appeals is climate-related. "And 2007 is not finished. We will certainly have more by the end of the year, I fear," added Sir John, who is in charge of channelling international relief efforts to disaster areas.

More appeals were likely in the coming weeks, as floods hit west Africa. "All these events on their own didn't have massive death tolls, but if you add all these little disasters together you get a mega disaster," he said.

The only one of this year's emergency appeals not connected to the climate was an earthquake in Peru, in August. The others arose after an unprecedented string of catastrophic floods across much of Africa, south Asia and North Korea, and followed severe drought in southern Africa, Nicaragua's category-five hurricane, and extreme climate conditions in Bolivia, which brought both drought and floods.

The Ocha appeals represent the tip of an iceberg since they are launched only with the agreement of the affected country. India was badly affected by floods that hit the rest of the Asian region in July. But unlike its neighbour, Pakistan, India did not call on the UN for help.

Ocha believes that 66 million people were made homeless or were otherwise affected across south Asia. The lives of several million more people were turned upside down across Africa. Sudan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia and Uganda experienced disastrous floods, and Swaziland and Lesotho declared emergencies because of severe drought that reduced harvests by half.

The latest appeal from Ocha was launched yesterday, to try to raise emergency relief funds for Ghana, where more than 400,000 people are reported to be homeless as a result of flooding. Appeals may also be started for Togo and Burkina Faso.

"The flooding in Africa just now is the worst anyone can remember," Sir John said, expressing frustration at how little media attention in the west was being devoted to what he terms creeping climatic catastrophe.

Flooding is likely to be common for a warming planet, and climate change has a double effect - causing an increase in the frequency of storms, while higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide curb the ability of plants to draw groundwater.

A climate-change summit is to be held in Bali in December, with the aim of agreeing the principles of a new international treaty to replace Kyoto, the accord that expires in 2012. But the talks face determined US opposition to mandatory emissions targets, and most climate negotiators doubt a real breakthrough can be achieved before the Bush government leaves office in 2009.

Sir John argues that whatever is done on greenhouse gas emissions, money has to be spent now on mitigating the impact that climate change is already having. "You can't actually stop disasters happening but you can do a lot to reduce their impact and reduce people's vulnerability to them by making sure people don't live on the coast or river plains, and that roads are raised and dams are in reasonable shape."

According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is leading research on the issue, global warming will disrupt and potentially devastate the lives of billions of people.

And, just as global warming starts to make itself felt, there are signs that "donor fatigue" has set in. Of about $338m (£166m) requested for Ocha's 13 flash appeals this year, only $114m has so far come from donors

Another warm winter seen for much of U.S.

From: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Long-range weather forecasts are predicting a warmer than average winter with less precipitation for much of the United States except the Pacific Northwest.

"It will be a lot like last year but the climate models are even more in agreement now than they were last fall," said Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.

"Temperatures will be warmer than average in most places except the northwest of the country, which could see some cold."

Forecasters believe the emergence of a La Nina condition -- unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean -- will be the main factor behind the anticipated warmth for much of North America.

"Computer models that simulate La Nina conditions have come up with an overwhelming consensus of above-normal warmth for a large part of the (energy) consuming east and back into the southern Rockies," said Jim Rouiller, senior energy weather forecaster at Planalytics in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

The forecast warmth could come as a relief to heating oil consumers who are facing higher prices with crude oil trading above $80 per barrel and lower fuel inventories. Distillate fuel stocks, which include heating oil, are 13 million barrels lower than last year, according to U.S. government data.

Private weather forecaster WSI Corp warned last week that while temperatures in the Northeastern United States, home to the world's largest heating oil market, may be cooler than normal in October, the chill was unlikely to last long enough to deplete burgeoning natural gas inventories.

"Typically, in the eastern U.S., La Nina means a warm October and a cold December," WSI forecaster Todd Crawford said, but added that cold ocean temperatures in the northern Pacific indicate a colder October than would normally be forecast.

U.S. natural gas inventories grew by 57 billion cubic feet in the week to September 28, the U.S. government reported Thursday. The increase was less than had been expected by analysts, but overall stocks are 7.5 percent above the five-year average for this time of year.

Typhoon Lekima Kills 12 in Southeast Asia

From: Reuters

KY ANH, Vietnam - Typhoon Lekima lashed Vietnam and southern China with torrential rains and high winds, killing at least seven people, damaging hundreds of homes and disrupting air, sea and train travel, officials said on Thursday.

The storm, which killed at least five people in the Philippines last weekend, swept into central Vietnam from the sea on Wednesday night, blowing roofs off houses, sinking scores of fishing vessels and grounding flights before moving to Laos.

The typhoon raised rivers to dangerous levels in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces, but the damage caused was not as serious as feared.

"Thanks to good preparatory work the damage from the storm is not large," Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, supervising the response to the storm, told Reuters TV in Ky Anh in Ha Tinh.

Trees were felled and electricity cut off in the provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh where residents returned to clean up debris after evacuating on Wednesday.

A Vietnamese government report said many areas reported blackouts due to Lekima, the Vietnamese name of a local fruit.

The national weather centre in Hanoi warned residents to take precautions against flash floods and landslides.

It said the centre of the storm passed through Quang Binh, crossed Laos on Wednesday night and advanced into northern Thailand where it weakened into a depression.

Vietnam is hit by up to 10 storms a year, causing millions of dollars in damage and sometimes killing hundreds of people.

Lekima, the fifth storm of 2007, killed 7 people, while 3 others were missing, officials said.

The storm hit China's beach resort of Sanya on Hainan island on Tuesday, trapping tourists and forcing the evacuation of 225,000 people. Vietnamese authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people before the storm hit.

Three cargo vessels capsized while taking shelter at a port in Quang Binh, a Reuters reporter traveling in the region said.

National carrier Vietnam Airlines and Pacific Airlines, the

second-largest airliner, cancelled flights to the central cities of Vinh, Hue and Danang on Wednesday.

The southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi were hit with heavy rain and strong winds.

Most shipping and rail services linking Hainan with the mainland resumed late on Wednesday, Xinhua news agency said.

(Additional reporting by Nguyen Van Vinh)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Melting ice cap brings diamond hunters and hopes of independence to Greenland

Arctic Ministers hope potential mineral wealth and hydro-electricity will allow nation to break free from Denmark

An iceberg off Ammassalik island, Greenland

Changing landscape - an iceberg off Ammassalik island, Greenland. Native people are being forced to retrain as their traditional livelihood disappears along with the ice. Photograph: John McConnico/AP

Helicopters have been hard to hire in Greenland this summer. In most countries that would not be a big problem, but for the locals on the world's biggest island - where there are no road networks and sparse settlements are often 100 miles apart - it can make life tricky.

The scarcity has been caused by a diamond rush with prospectors, mostly from North America, believing they can strike it rich. As the ice cap recedes due to rising temperatures, rock covered for centuries could produce spectacular finds. The interest in the Greenland tundra was sparked partly by the announcement this year of the discovery of a 2.4-carat diamond at Garnet lake in west Greenland, the largest of 236 diamonds found in a trial dig in the area by Hudson Resources of Vancouver.

While the Hudson company was willing to announce its find, presumably to encourage its investors, most prospectors are less keen to discuss their activities in this vast mineral rich wilderness.

The belief in Greenland's potential riches stems from the fact that the geology is identical to that found across the now ice-free north-west passage in Canada, which has led to large opencast mining in the Arctic region.

But Greenland has other potential riches too. Gold has been discovered and is already being mined, although so far at a loss, and there are deposits of other minerals such as zinc, that could be exploited. Oil giants are negotiating licences to explore blocks of the coastline covering thousands of square miles.

The dash for minerals is fuelling another debate in Greenland: whether the country should go for independence from Denmark. With its 56,000 population scattered over an area almost the size of Europe, Greenland is heavily dependent on a subsidy from Denmark for survival. The island has internal self-government but Denmark is responsible for foreign policy.

Aleqa Hammond, the foreign minister in Greenland's home-rule government, hopes that the oil and mineral companies moving in will create sufficient wealth for her country to break from colonial rule. "It is natural for a country to want to be independent. We do not feel ourselves part of Europe - we are an Arctic people - but our way of life is changing and we have to change with it. My mother's generation fought for Greenland homeland government and achieved it in 1979, leaving only foreign affairs and defence in the hands of Denmark.

"Then, we could not strike out alone because we were so heavily dependent on Danish money, and we still are, but we can change that by exploiting our natural resources to achieve financial and political independence."

But some argue that independence has dangers. Greenland is the land mass closest to the North Pole and has rapidly assumed greater strategic importance as its much more powerful and populous neighbours vie for a slice of the Arctic's supposed mineral wealth. The United States is strengthening its air base at Thule on the extreme north of the island and the Russians have already planted flags on the sea bed.

But rather than putting her faith in mineral wealth, Mrs Hammond believes that her country's best prospect of buying its independence lies in hydro-electricity. The vast lakes and melting ice cap provide enormous potential for electricity free from fossil fuel and the Greenland government is negotiating with Alcoa, an aluminium company, to built the world's second largest smelter. No contract has been signed but the minister hopes this project will provide 3,500 much-needed jobs.

It was ironic, she says, that climate change had melted the ice sufficiently for prospectors to move in, and that might in turn give the nation its independence. A referendum in Denmark had shown a majority in favour of granting Greenland home rule. "We hope it will happen soon."

But Professor Minik Rosing, of the University of Copenhagen, who was born in Greenland, believes it would be a disaster if his country had a big oil find and used the revenue to buy independence. "As everybody gets more desperate for that commodity you do not want to be a very, very small, very independent country, very far from anywhere else. Much better to stay with the friend you know."

A major mineral find could be catastrophic, he said. "With such a small population we could be overwhelmed by people coming to work here. We should be cautious of suddenly finding ourselves in the minority."

Aqqaluk Lynge, an Inuit leader and former chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, is also cautious about independence. "Frankly I think it is still a long way off. We do not want to rush into these things. We need to avoid conflict and assess exactly what the resources and options are before we make decisions."

Mrs Hammond's government has introduced education programmes so that native hunters can retrain to prepare for new lives and independence. "The fact is we cannot go on as we are," she said. "The hunters wait one month later for the ice to form and it melts one month earlier in the spring. It is like an employer taking away three months of your pay without notice. They cannot find enough food for themselves and their dogs. Less than 500 of the whole population can now survive only by hunting."

The Arctic's alarming sea change

The view from an American icebreaker research cruise approximately 600 miles or 966 kilometers, north of the Alaskan coastline. (Andy Armstrong/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
[Enlarge this image]

The Arctic ice cap shrank so much this summer that waves briefly lapped along two long-imagined Arctic shipping routes, the Northwest Passage over Canada and the Northern Sea Route over Russia.

Over all, the floating ice dwindled to an extent unparalleled in a century or more, by several estimates.

Now the six-month dark season has returned to the North Pole. In the deepening chill, new ice is already spreading over vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Astonished by the summer's changes, scientists are studying the forces that exposed one million square miles of open water, or 2.6 million square kilometers, beyond the average since satellites started measurements in 1979.

At a recent gathering of sea-ice experts in Fairbanks, Alaska, a geophysicist summarized it this way: "Our stock in trade seems to be going away." Scientists are also unnerved by the summer's implications for the future, and their ability to predict it.

Complicating the picture, the dramatic Arctic change was as much a result of ice moving as melting, many say. A study led by Son Nghiem at NASA, and appearing this week in Geophysical Research Letters, used satellites and buoys to show that winds since 2000 had pushed huge amounts of thick old ice out of the Arctic basin past Greenland. The thin floes that formed on the resulting open water melted quicker or could be shuffled together by winds and similarly expelled, the authors said.

The pace of change has far exceeded what had been estimated by almost all of the supercomputer simulations used to envision how the Arctic will respond to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. But that disconnect between observations and projections can cut two ways: Are the models overly conservative? Or are they missing natural influences that can cause wide swings in ice and temperature, thereby dwarfing the slow background warming?

The world is paying more attention than ever. Russia, Canada and Denmark, prompted in part by years of warming and the ice retreat this year, ratcheted up rhetoric and actions aimed at securing sea routes and seabed resources.

Proponents of cuts in greenhouse gases cited the dramatic meltdown as proof that human activities are propelling a slide toward climate calamity.

Arctic analysts say things are not that simple. More than a dozen specialists on the Arctic said in interviews that the extreme summer ice retreat has revealed at least as much about what remains unknown in the Arctic as what is clear.

Still, many of those scientists said they were becoming convinced that the system is heading toward a new, more watery state, and that human-caused global warming is playing a significant role.

For one thing, analysts are having trouble finding any records from Russia, Alaska or elsewhere pointing to such a widespread Arctic ice retreat in recent times, adding credence to the idea that humans may have tipped the balance.

Some scientists who have long doubted that a human influence could be clearly discerned in the Arctic's changing climate now agree that the trend is hard to ascribe to anything else.

"We used to argue that a lot of the variability up to the late 1990s was induced by changes in the winds, natural changes not obviously related to global warming," said John Michael Wallace, a scientist at the University of Washington. "But changes in the last few years make you have to question that. I'm much more open to the idea that we might have passed a point where it's becoming essentially irreversible."

Analysts say that next summer is quite likely to see an even bigger ice retreat because this winter's freeze is starting from such a huge ice deficit. At least one researcher, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, projects a blue Arctic Ocean in summers by 2013.

In essence, Arctic waters may be behaving more like those around Antarctica, where a broad fringe of sea ice builds each austral winter and disappears entirely in the summer.

While open Arctic waters could be a boon for shipping, fishing and oil exploration, an annual seesawing between ice and no ice could be a particularly harsh jolt to polar bears.

Many researchers warned that it was still far too soon to start sending container ships over the top of the world.

"Natural variations could turn around and counteract the greenhouse-gas-forced change, perhaps stabilizing the ice for a bit," said Marika Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

But, she added, that will not last. "Eventually the natural variations would again reinforce the human-driven change, perhaps leading to even more rapid retreat," Holland said. "So I wouldn't sign any shipping contracts for the next five to 10 years, but maybe the next 20 to 30."

While analysts debate details, many agree that the vanishing act of the sea ice this year was probably caused by superimposed forces including heat-trapping clouds and water vapor in the air and the ocean-heating influence of unusually sunny skies in June and July.

Other factors were warm winds flowing from Siberia around a high-pressure system parked over the ocean. The winds not only would have melted thin ice but also pushed floes offshore where currents and winds could push them out of the Arctic Ocean.

But another factor was probably involved, one with roots going back to about 1989.

At that time, a periodic flip in winds and pressure patterns over the Arctic Ocean, called the Arctic Oscillation, settled into a phase that tended to stop ice from drifting in a gyre for years, so it could thicken, and instead carried it out to the North Atlantic.

The new NASA study of expelled old ice builds on previous measurements showing the proportion of thick, durable floes that were at least 10 years old dropped to 2 percent this spring from 80 percent in the spring of 1987, said Ignatius Rigor, an ice expert at the University of Washington and an author of the new NASA-led study.

Without the thick ice, which can endure months of nonstop summer sunshine, more dark open water and thin ice absorbed solar energy, adding to melting and delaying the winter freeze.

Ice cap melt seen "very, very alarming"

From: Gerard Wynn and Jeremy Lovell, Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Record melting of Arctic sea ice this year sent a "very alarming" signal about warming at the North Pole, but it couldn't all definitely be blamed on manmade climate change, the U.N.'s top weatherman said on Tuesday.

The amount of Arctic ice which melted this summer beat a previous record, set two years ago, by an area more than four times the size of Britain, a 30-year satellite record shows.

"This year was quite exceptional ... the melting of the Arctic ice ... it's quite spectacular," Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation, told Reuters.

"Can it all be attributed to climate change? That's very difficult. It's very, very alarming," he said. His answer to how best to interpret the melt was -- "let's do more research".

"What it means is that we have to monitor that very, very carefully. It's a warning signal."

Melting of sea ice doesn't affect sea levels because it's entire volume is already in the water, but scientists fear if it melted that could trigger more warming and melting of ice sheets over Greenland, which could raise sea levels by 7 meters.

Asked if scientists should have better predicted the rate of sea ice melting now seen Jarraud said: "I don't know the answer. It's a difficult question. Some of the models predicted faster melting than others."

The prospects for avoiding dangerous climate change depended on the world putting in place measures to cut emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for heating the planet, he said.

But things were looking up.

"There's a lot more political attention on this issue. I take it as a positive signal," he said, referring to two high-level climate meetings last week hosted by the United Nations and the United States in New York and Washington.


Vast geographical and scientific gaps in the global meteorological and oceanographic monitoring system had to be filled urgently, said Jarraud.

The world's weather centers spent $5-10 billion a year in total, and for every extra $1 billion spent up to 10 times that amount could be saved in preparing for and better reacting to climate disasters, Jarraud said.

The ultimate goal, he said, would be to refine climate change forecasting from a coarse global level down towards a regional or even national level so governments could plan in detail how to prepare.

"We are very confident that over the next five to 10 years we will be better able to answer questions of regional outlook," Jarraud said.

The U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this year concluded global warming was definitely happening and almost certainly manmade.

A fifth such IPCC report in six years time would yield answers to whether the increasing frequency and severity of specific extreme weather events, like hurricanes, floods and heatwaves, was linked to climate change.

"I'm confident for example that in the next report we might give a better answer with respect to the link between global warming and tropical cyclones," Jarraud said. "There seems to be a growing consensus that global warming may... lead to more of the very intense hurricanes, category 4 and 5."

Polar bear endangered status "likely"

From: Gerard Wynn and Alister Doyle

LONDON - An accelerating melt of Arctic sea ice is likely to make the polar bear officially "endangered" in the very near future, the head of a global wildlife conservation network said on Wednesday.

"They're running out of ice to be on," said Julia Marton-Lefevre, the director general of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) which publishes an annual "Red List" of threatened species.

The IUCN, grouping 83 states and hundreds of conservation organizations, currently lists the polar bear as "vulnerable".

"It's likely to be increased to endangered... in the very near future, unfortunately," Marton-Lefevre told the Reuters Environment Summit of the giant Arctic carnivore that is an emblem of manmade global warming for conservationists.

The Arctic saw record melting of sea ice this summer, a 30-year satellite record shows, prompting some scientists to predict an ice-free North Pole by the summer of 2050 or sooner.

Placing the polar bear on the second highest alert, below critically endangered, would underscore how manmade climate change has arrived and could even bring political fallout.

President George W. Bush's administration will separately decide by year-end whether to add polar bears to its own threatened list, a move which would bar the government from jeopardizing their existence.


That could open a pandora's box given that the United States is one of the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, alongside China.

Marton-Lefevre said the polar bear was a sign of a global "extinction crisis" which she said threatened, for example, half of all turtles and a quarter of mammals.

Extinctions could be the next global threat to hit the public eye, she said.

"All indications are exactly like the climate issue ten years ago. It looks bad. The climate issue was ignored for so long because scientists were very prudent."

Preserving animals and plants could help protect mankind, she said. "When the tsunami hit we now know the parts of coastline without mangroves were worst affected," she said of the Indian Ocean disaster of 2004.

The IUCN estimates that 16,000 species are threatened with extinction, not including those unknown or little understood.

Success stories are thin on the ground but include the Echo Parakeet, the only species that the IUCN this year downgraded, to endangered from critical, thanks to protection in a wooded corner of Mauritius.

"That's a good story... There aren't too many, this is the problem. This is a tiny little example to show that conservation can work."

The polar bear's main hunting trick is to use its snowy coats to blend in with a white background and so sneak up on seals, its main prey. In other words -- no ice, no food.

-- Additional reporting by Deborah Zabarenko in Washington

10,000 Wildebeast Drown in Freak Accident

From: , Environmental Graffiti

Source: Environmental Graffiti

Conservationists were in tears last week as over 10,000 wildebeest drowned in a freak accident – that’s over 1% of the total species population and over three times the life-loss of 911. There was no unusual flooding at the time and no extraneous circumstances to the deaths, so what went wrong?

Every year, over a million wildebeest undertake an epic voyage of over 2,000 miles. From their calving grounds: the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania to the lush Kenyan vegetation to the north of the continent, the animals are followed by herds of zebras and Thomson’s gazelles. This year however, something went disastrously wrong.

The wildebeest were attempting to ford Kenya’s Mara River at an incredibly dangerous point. They did not realize how steep the banks were until it was far too late… The first few animals failed to cross, while others continued to stampede behind.

Terilyn Lemaire, a conservation worker with the Mara Conservancy witnessed the accident. She describes how once the wildebeest, “jumped into the water, they were unable to climb up either embankment onto land and, as a result, got swept up by the current and drowned.” The final result…?

Utter Carnage

Thousands of lifeless bodies washed up on the muddy banks of Kenya’s Mara River. Some floated downriver, others found obstacles. Underneath a bridge, a pungent island of carcasses piled up. For the scavengers of this world - the crocodiles, storks, and vultures, their next meal was an easy one. However, the next few weeks will be hazardous – the health of the water, the lifeblood of the Serengeti landscape will no doubt be affected.

Lemaire added that “I would imagine that such a significant decrease in population would have an effect….but what that effect would be and to what extent, I cannot say.”

Sighting of Amazon group bolsters environmentalist case

· Hunter-gatherers seen in area sought by loggers
· Uncontacted people not 'absurd' after all

Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent
Wednesday October 3, 2007
The Guardian, UK

Twenty members of what is thought to be the Mascho Piro tribe, captured on film from a helicopter in the Peruvian national park of Alto Purus
Twenty members of what is thought to be the Mascho Piro tribe, captured on film from a helicopter in the Peruvian national park of Alto Purus. Photograph: EPA

At first they are just a blur, tiny figures by a river in Peru's Amazon jungle. Then the plane descends, the camera focuses, and you see them: 21 people outside palm huts, the apparent remnants of an uncontacted tribe. They gaze up at the intruder, itself a blur of noise and metal, and a woman carrying arrows gestures aggressively. When the plane makes a second pass the people melt into the jungle.

The encounter took place last month by the banks of the Las Piedras river in the Alto Purús national park near Peru's frontier with Brazil. Scientists believe the grainy figures were members of the Mascho Piro tribe, hunter-gatherers who have shunned the outside world.

The contact was fleeting but the repercussions could be profound because this swath of Amazon, 550 miles east of Lima, is at the centre of a battle pitting indigenous rights groups and environmentalists against the Peruvian state, loggers and oil companies.

Those who want to develop the rainforest have played down the impact on its human inhabitants. Some even questioned their existence. Daniel Saba, president of Perupetro, the state oil company, said the notion of uncontacted tribes was "absurd" since no one has seen them. A company spokesman compared the rumours to the Loch Ness monster.

The film, taken by ecologists from the national institute of natural resources, is a powerful riposte.

They were looking for evidence of illegal logging and spotted the group by chance, said Ricardo Hon, a forest scientist who was in the small plane. "There were three huts and about 21 Indians - children, women and young people," he said.

Similar types of huts were spotted in the region in the 1980s, prompting speculation that this was the Mascho Piro, a tribe which erects temporary dwellings near riverbanks during the dry season when it is easier to fish, then move back into the forest during the wet season.

"This is the most recent recorded sighting of them," said Peru's national Indian organisation, Aidesep. "The uncontacted tribes exist. If we don't act now, tomorrow could be too late."

Contact with outsiders has proved fatal to people who have not developed resistance to the common cold and other illnesses. More than half of the Murunahua tribe who came into contact with loggers in the mid 1990s are said to have died. Some members of the Mascho Piro, estimated to number about 600, are believed to have had dealings with more settled groups but most have avoided the outside world.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Amazon jungle could be lost in 40 years, say campaigners

· Development threatens world's oldest rainforest
· Conservationists attack plans for transport routes

The Amazonian wilderness is at risk of unprecedented damage from an ambitious plan to improve transport, communications and power generation in the region, conservationists warned yesterday.

Development plans have been drawn up to boost trade links between 10 economic hubs on the continent, but threaten to bring "a perfect storm of environmental destruction" to the world's oldest rainforest, according to a report from Conservation International.

Projects to upgrade road and river transport, combined with work to create dams and lay down extensive power and communications cabling, will open up previously inaccessible parts of the rainforest, raising the risk of widespread deforestation that could see the loss of the entire Amazon jungle within 40 years, the environmental group said.

Tim Killeen, a scientist with Conservation International, examined the projects funded under the multinational government-backed Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA). He found that the environmental impact of individual projects had often been well assessed, but there had been a failure to look at their collective impact on the region.

Part of the planned improvements will see motorway-style roads built from the Andes, across the Amazon to the Cerrado tropical savannah, linking the Pacific to the Atlantic.

"Failure to foresee the full impact of IIRSA investments, particularly in the context of climate change and global markets, will bring about a combination of forces that could lead to a perfect storm of environmental destruction," Dr Killeen said.

Damage to the ecosystem could have wide-ranging implications, according to the report. The Amazon river basin is the world's largest reserve of fresh water, while the surrounding wilderness regulates the continental climate and rainfall that drives a multimillion pound agricultural industry. Improved transport networks throughout the Amazon will make it easier for inaccessible areas to be logged and burned, disrupting the ecosystems that support native species and indigenous populations, the report concludes.

The group urged the governments backing the IIRSA to take greater account of the ecological impact of the projects and encourage more sustainable use of the region's resources. If Amazonian countries agreed to reduce deforestation rates by 5% a year for 30 years, the saved forest would potentially qualify as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and generate more than £3bn a year over the lifetime of the agreement, Dr Killeen said.

Biofuel crops, such as sugar cane, could be planted on the 65m hectares (250,000 square miles) of land that has already been deforested, and fish farms could exploit the natural water reserves, he said.

Vandana Shiva: How to Address Humanity's Global Crises?

From: , Organic Consumers Association

Web Note: Vandana Shiva is a leading activist in India, and a member of the Policy Advisory Board of the Organic Consumers Association

Editor's note: the following remarks were made this September at a conference on "Confronting the Global Triple Crisis -- Climate Change, Peak Oil, Global Resource Depletion & Extinction," in Washington DC. For more information, visit the International Forum on Globalization's website .

Before I came here I was very fortunate to join the group of scientists and religious leaders who made a trip to the Arctic to witness the melting of the icecaps. An entire way of life is being destroyed. You've seen the polar bears losing their ecological space, but the highest mobility in that part of the world is the dog sledge. And they can't use it. They're locked into their villages because the ice is now too thin to travel on it. But it's still there and therefore not good enough for them to use boats.

The same melting is making the Himalayan glaciers in my region, the Ganges glacier, recede by 30 meters a year. In twenty years time, the Himalayan glaciers will have reduced from 500,000 square kilometers to 100,000 square kilometers. And given our rainfall patterns, in the hot summer season when we have a drought, it's only the melting of the glaciers that brings us water. So we're talking about one-fifth of humanity, twenty to thirty years from now, having no water in the grand rivers around which the grand civilizations of Asia have been built.

And where did this start? All this feels so timeless, but it started with humanity getting at the fossil fuel, which was never supposed to be touched But that model carries on. And globalization now is industrializing every activity of every human being's life across the planet. For me, globalization is really expanding the use of fossil fuel.

And so while on the one hand, when we talk climate change, we're talking about reducing emissions, the entire economic model is based on increasing emissions. It is based on increasing emissions by destroying small-scale peasant farming and introducing large-scale industrial agriculture. It's increasing emissions by making every one of us dependent on our everyday needs to come from China.

Everything today is being made where it can be made most cheaply, which means where sources can be exploited the fastest and workers can be exploited the highest. And at one level, that's what's being reflected in China's double-digit growth and India's nine percent growth. It's basically converting our resources into commodities, to be sold around the world.

But that conversion requires the wastage of human beings on a scale we've never seen. In India right now, the relocation of industry for example; industry like steel that's shutting down in Europe and America, is relocating to India. Automobile companies that are shutting down in the West are moving to India; they're talking about making 50 million cars in India annually. Only four percent of India will ever own them. The rest will either be exported or that four percent will have eight cars rather than two. Already my landlord has five in a family of three. Those cars need minerals, they need steel, they need iron ore mining, they need aluminum, they need bauxite mining. And every inch of the land in India is today serving a global, fossil fuel economy that's on fast forward.

It needs land; land grab is the biggest resource crisis. Land you can't create, you can only exhaust. But peasants are saying we will not move. That's what they said in Nandigram, 25 were shot dead and they refuse to move. In Dhandri, where women were raped and attacked and refused to move. In place after place, the tribals, the peasants in India are saying this our land, this is our mother, and this is where we will be. And when the money for compensation becomes bigger and bigger-- I love this action-- the Nandigram peasants sent a letter to the chief ministers to say, "How much is your mother for sale. How much will you take for her? Because this land is our mother."

And the globalization of agriculture has really become genocidal. It's hugely responsible for increasing greenhouse gases, whether it's from the nitrogen fertilizers of the fossil fuel in the mechanical energy that's used, or in the long distance transport and food miles. But on the ground it's killing people. Long before it will kill us through climate change, it's killing people, physically killing people.

150,000 farmers have been pushed to end their lives in India because of Monsanto seed monopolies. Monsanto was collecting 2,400 rupees as royalty for a kilogram of Bt cotton seed that they were selling for 3,200 rupees. They're in the courts right now; we've challenged them, we've joined one of the state governments. They're saying we have a right to this monopoly and we're saying our country has never given you this right. They assume they got it in the United States and therefore they have it everywhere, whether the law allows it or not.

Or Cargill, wanting to grab India's wheat market, having signed an agreement through the Bush Administration withRight here in this city, decisions about agriculture are being made here, in Washington. A two-year old agriculture agreement. So Cargill eventually got India's wheat markets opened up. And the international wheat price is $400; Indian farmers are getting $200. And this double price is ultimately a subsidy that we are giving in addition to the subsidy your farm bill is providing to these corporations.

Retail: India is a huge, huge land of bazaars, of huts, of markets. Every street is a market. Hawkers come down in the morning, get us our vegetables to our doorstep. Of course, that's not very good for Wal-Mart so they're manipulating zoning laws, shutting down hawkers, shutting down businesses in town, so that we will have a Wal-Mart model. But that means 100 million people out of retail and we don't know how much more carbon emissions, while Wal-Mart talks about going green

So here you have globalization adding to emissions and it needs to be a continued part of our work. And you've got false solutions that were laid out by Jerry [Mander]. But the false solution that I think we need to pay particular attention to is the dominant solution in terms of carbon trading. Because at the philosophical level, at the world-view level, it's the second privatization of the atmospheric commons. The first privatization was putting the pollution into the atmosphere beyond the earth's recycling capacity. Now with carbon trading, the rights to the earth's carbon cycling capacity are gravitating exactly into the arms of the polluters. The environmental principal used to be the polluter must pay. Carbon trading is transforming that into the polluter gets paid.

[Sir Nicholas] Stern, who did the Stern Review , has clearly said it is an allocation of a full set of property rights to the atmosphere. And PricewaterhouseCoopers -- who was very notorious in trying to privatize, with the World Bank's help, Delhi's water supply, and we defeated them two years ago in that project -- has said that trade in carbon emissions is equated with the transfer of similar rights such as copyrights, patents, licensing rights, commercial and industrial standards.

One of the things we have always said in [the International Forum on Globalization] is that the enclosures of the commons is one of the deep crises of resource depletion. Once resources move out of common management and public care, they will get further degraded. And if you really look at the clean development mechanism, it's all about dirty industry; it's about HCFC plants being accelerated, new plants being set up in China and India. The biggest recipients of CDM credits in China and India are plants that are depleting the ozone layer. Sponge iron plants coming up in the tribal belts of India, in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa. And clean seems to have become such a confusing word. We would have thought that we know what clean is. And suddenly, everything dirty is clean.

Including nuclear. Nuclear, not just as nuclear power, but nuclear as strategic use of nuclear power. I don't know how many of you have followed that the United States signed an agreement with India. Now it isn't really that United States signed an agreement with India because you did not sign that agreement and I did not sign that agreement. Our Prime Minister came at the same time that they handed over our agriculture. Monsanto, Cargill, and Wal-Mart, who sit on the board of the agriculture agreement, they also signed this nuclear agreement.

Which has led to the Hyde Act; section 103 of the Hyde Act calls for securing India's full and active participation in U.S. efforts to dissuade, isolate, and if necessary, sanction and contain Iran if it proceeds with its nuclear program. Iran has been mentioned 15 times in a bilateral agreement.

So the nuclear agreement with India is definitely not about clean energy; it is about something bigger. And in India, right now while I'm here, we are having the biggest democratic mobilization against this agreement. First of all because Parliament did not clear it and second, because we don't want to be a client state of the empire -- we want our non-alignment defended -- and thirdly we don't want $100 billion market created for the defense industry in the United States. After all, you are going to have a big mobilization tomorrow against the war. And we don't want to be a part of U.S.'s wars without end. We are, after all, the land of Gandhi, the land of nonviolence, the land of peace, the land of ahimsa.

We have to begin with solutions where we are, while we defend our democratic rights. I work primarily on agriculture. The globalized, industrialized agriculture is a very big part of the pollution that we are dealing with, a very big part of the crisis we are facing. But ecological, bio-diverse, local agriculture is part of the solution. Both in reducing emissions, in increasing absorption of carbon, and most importantly, providing the adaptive capacity to deal with climate chaos. This year in Navdanya, the movement I started for seed saving, we started saving seeds that can deal with the drought, that can deal with the floods. We've been saving seeds that can deal with the cyclones and hurricanes and distributed those seeds after the tsunami. Those seeds are available, they merely have to be saved and distributed rapidly enough before Monsanto comes up with yet another false solution; that without genetic engineering and seed patents we will not be able to respond to climate change ...

I just want to end by saying that we have basically two options. We have the option of letting the remaining resources of the planet be fought over viciously through militarized power or we can move rapidly to the ability to rebuild our ecosystems, share the limited resources the planet can provide us, and create good lives while doing it. But to do that, we'll have to get out of many reductionisms.

The first reductionism being the reductionism of energy. We've suddenly moved to thinking of energy as something we can consume, not as something we generate. And I think that generative concept of energy -- we call it shakti in India -- is something we have to reclaim, because the solution to pollution and wasted people is bringing people back -- deep into the equation of how we produce things, how we work the land, how we shape community, and how we exercise our democratic rights and rebuild our freedoms.

And of course, we'll have to get out of the mindsets that treat the laws manufactured by the market as immutable and unchanging. And the three concepts that are constantly referred to as something that can't be touched are: economic growth. You can't make any change that will touch the nine percent growth in India, the ten percent growth in China. You cannot interfere in the unregulated market -- even though every step of trade liberalization is an interference in the market, every step of creating an opportunity for Cargill and Monsanto, is an interference in the market. And the third false sacred, is unbridled consumerism ...

The problem of climate chaos to me and the problem of appropriating the resources of those who need those resources for ecological security and economic security, is ultimately a question of ethics and justice. And that issue of ethics and justice can only be addressed if we recognize some very basic facts and reorient our practices of what we eat, what we do on our farms, our homes, our towns, our planet.

We need to reinvent our eating and drinking, our moving and working, in our local ecosystems and local cultures. Enriching our lives by lowering our consumption, without impoverishing others. And above all, we need to subject the laws that govern production and consumption to the laws of Gaia; the laws of the planet. The laws of a planet that can give forever in abundance for our needs if we do not allow the narrow minded, mechanistic, reductionist, greed based system of industrialism, capitalism, globalization to make us imagine that to be inhuman is the definition of being human.

Activist and physicist Vandana Shiva is founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. She is author of more than three hundred papers in leading journals and numerous books, including "Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity, Biotechnology, and the Third World and Earth Democracy." Shiva is a founding director of International Forum on Globalization .

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved. View this story online at:

Forest fires rage in Lebanon

From: Jamal Saidi -Reuters

DEIR AL-QAMAR, Lebanon (Reuters) - Forest fires blazed in several areas of Lebanon on Tuesday, including the ancient town of Deir al-Qamar southeast of Beirut.

"Most of Deir al-Qamar is engulfed in thick, black smoke. There's not one wooded area left. Some villas are ablaze, cars are burnt, the phone and electricity lines are burnt," resident Joseph al-Itr told Reuters.

Television footage showed several burned-out cars on roads in the Shouf region and smoke rising from charred woodland.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. Local media outlets said some residents had been evacuated from their homes.

A police statement said at least 10 fires had erupted since late on Monday and civil defense forces were having difficulty reaching some of them. It was unclear how the fires had started.

Big fires were also reported in the northern region of Akkar and several others in the Metn area northeast of Beirut.

The town's deputy governor described the Deir al-Qamar fires as "an environmental disaster."

The army was using helicopters to try to douse the blazes but was finding it hard to reach some areas because of heavy winds.

(Additional reporting by Beirut bureau)

Scientists see dramatic drop in Arctic sea ice

From: Will Dunham, Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Arctic sea ice declined this year to the lowest levels registered since satellite assessments started in the 1970s, extending a trend fueled by human-caused global warming, scientists said on Monday.

Sea ice declined by so much this year that the typically ice-clogged Northwest Passage, allowing vessels to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific, completely opened for the first time anyone can recall, the researchers said.

Scientists at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of the University of Colorado at Boulder, measure Arctic sea ice during the annual melt season beginning in March and ending in September.

The average sea ice extent for September, when ice is at its lowest quantities, slipped to 1.65 million square miles , breaking by nearly a quarter the previous record low for the month set two years ago, the scientists said.

"Overall there's been a steep and significant downward trend since we've been getting good satellite data starting in 1979," Walt Meier, one of the scientists studying Arctic sea ice for the data center, said in a telephone interview.

"We've got the final numbers now for this September, and it's a really dramatic record low. It didn't just break the record, it shattered the record. This year just obliterated everything else."

Sea ice last month was 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000, the scientists said.

Meanwhile, a NASA-led study documented a 23 percent loss during the past two winters in the extent of the Arctic's thick, year-round sea ice cover.

The reduction of perennial winter sea ice is the primary cause of this summer's fastest-ever sea ice retreat on record and subsequent smallest-ever extent of total Arctic coverage, the scientists said. Their findings appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Meier said it would not be surprising that in the next 25 years -- far sooner than previously predicted -- that there might be an ice-free Arctic during the summer.

"I don't think you can get this kind of situation if you didn't have warming temperatures," Meier said, pointing to man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases.

Mark Serreze, another researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said in a statement, "Computer projections have consistently shown that as global temperatures rise, the sea ice cover will begin to shrink.

"While a number of natural factors have certainly contributed to the overall decline in sea ice, the effects of greenhouse warming are now coming through loud and clear," Serreze said.

Meier said satellite imagery showed no ice for several weeks in August and September along the Northwest Passage, which would enable vessels other than modern icebreakers to get through.

"The channels there were basically completely open," Meier said.


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