Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wetter and wilder: the signs of warming everywhere

In the third part of our series on the eve of the Poznan conference, we look at how climate change is already changing ordinary people's lives from Australia to Brazil

An aerial view of Gonaives, in Haiti, after the passing of tropical storm Hanna

An aerial view of Gonaives, in Haiti, after the passing of tropical storm Hanna. Photograph: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty images

Joao da Antonio's eyes are full of tears. If good rains do not come, he says, he will pack his bag, kiss his wife and two children goodbye and join the annual exodus of young men leaving hot, dry rural north-east Brazil for the biofuel fields in the south.

Da Antonio, 19, can earn about £30 a month for 10 hours gruelling work a day cutting sugar cane to make ethanol, and more than a million small farmers like him migrate south for six months of the year because the land can no longer support them. Tens of thousands a year never return, forced to move permanently to Sao Paulo or another of Brazil's cities in search of work.

"Life here is one of suffering," Da Antonio said. "I will do anything to earn some money. None of us want to die, but the lack of water here will kill us. "

Around the world, millions of people like Da Antonio are feeling the force of a changing climate. As UN negotiations towards a global climate deal continue in Poznan, Poland, this week, evidence is emerging of weather patterns in turmoil and the poorest nations disproportionately bearing the brunt of warming.

While rich countries at the talks seek to set up global carbon trading, using financial markets to tackle - and profit from - climate change, poor countries want justice. They are seeking environmental justice: money to adapt their economies to climate changes they did not cause, and technology and resources to allow them to escape poverty while preserving their forests and ecosystems.

The fast and unpredictable shifts in weather are not threats for the future, but happening right now. "The frequency of heatwaves and heavy precipitation is increasing; cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense; more areas are being affected by droughts; and flooding is now more serious," says Sheridan Bartlett, a researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development in a new study looking at the effects of climate change on children.

"Increasingly unpredictable weather now affects hundreds of millions of farmers, resulting in food and water shortages, more illnesses and water-borne diseases, malnutrition, soil erosion, and disruption to water supplies," she says. Such changes confound the received wisdom of how to live on the land.

North-east Brazil has always known droughts, but they are becoming longer and more frequent, say scientists and farmers. "Climate change is biting. It is much hotter than it used to be and it stays hotter for longer. The rain has become more sporadic. It comes at different times of the year now and farmers cannot tell when to plant," says Lindon Carlos, an agronomist with Brazilian group Acev.

Brazilian scientists have recorded changes in the lifecycles of plants, greater oscillations in temperature and more water shortages, all consistent with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions of a devastating 3-4C rise in temperatures within 60 years if climate change is not halted. "All the research points to it becoming drier [in north-east Brazil]. In the last 30 years temperatures have risen by 1C. There is more very heavy rainfall over short periods and more evaporation," says Eneida Cavalcanti, a desertification specialist at the Joaquim Nabuco foundation in Recife.

On the other side of the world, the changing climate is wreaking havoc in a different way on low-lying and populous Bangladesh. There, government meteorologists this year reported a 10% increase in intensity and frequency in major cyclones hitting the country - two of the most powerful cyclones ever recorded have hit the country in the last three years.

"We are getting too much water in the rainy season and too little in the dry season. All this has implications for food security," says Raja Debashish Roy, Bangladesh's environment minister.

"We are learning about climate change," said Anawarul Islam, chair of the Deara district of about 2,500 people in the far south of the county. "This village is experiencing more rainfall and flooding every year. It has led to more homeless people and more conflict. "

"It's far warmer now," says one villager, Selina. "We do not feel cold in the rainy season. We used to need blankets, but now we don't. There is extreme uncertainty of weather. It makes it very hard to farm and we cannot plan. We have to be more reactive. The storms are increasing and the tides now come right up to our houses."

The balmy Caribbean is also being churned up with increasing frequency and ferocity. This year, the region experienced eight hurricanes and five major hurricanes, the second highest ever, and the hurricane season lasted a record five months.

"A warmer climate poses in some cases insurmountable challenges to the region. We face more hurricanes, coral bleaching and flooding," said Neville Trotz, science adviser to the Caribbean community climate change centre.

Across the Atlantic, in Africa, the theme unfolds further: climate change turning already bad situations in poor countries into potential catastrophe, and driving people to absolute poverty. Alexandre Tique, at Mozambique's national meteorological institute, says: "Analysis of the temperature data gathered in our provincial capitals, where we have meteorological stations that have kept continuous data over the years, shows a clear increase in temperature. Extreme events are becoming more frequent. We now see many more tropical cyclones that bring flooding, destruction and loss of lives."

Other African communities are suffering. In the village of Chikani, in Zambia, the farmers last year prepared their fields for planting in November, as they have always done, but the rains were very late for the third year running.

"We waited, but the first drop didn't fall till December 20. After a day, the rains stopped. Three weeks later, it started to rain again. But then it stopped again after a few days. Since then, we have had no rain. We have never known anything like this before," says Julius Njame.

From the plains of Africa, to mountaintop Nepal, where there is no respite from the weather in flux. Villages like Ketbari expect a small flood to wash off the hills every decade or so, now they seem to be annual and getting more serious.

"We always used to have a little rain each month, but now when there is rain it's very different. It's more concentrated and intense. It means that crop yields are going down," says Tekmadur Majsi, whose lands have been progressively washed away by the Trishuli river.

Nepalese villagers observe the minutiae of a changing climate. Some say that forest pigs now farrow earlier, others that some types of rice and cucumber will no longer grow where they used to. The common thread is that the days are hotter, some trees now flower twice a year and the raindrops are getting bigger.

The anecdotal observations of farmers are backed by scientists who are recording in Nepal some of the fastest increases in temperatures and rainfall anywhere in the world. Many lakes in Nepal and neighbouring Bhutan, which collect glacier meltwater, are said by the UN to be growing so rapidly that they could burst their banks.

Melting glaciers are creating anxiety about water supplies across the Earth. In Tajikistan, at current rates of change, thousands of small glaciers will have disappeared completely by 2050, causing more water to flow in spring followed by what is expected to be a disastrous decline of river flow in most rivers. In Peru, temperature increases have led to a 22% reduction in the total area of its glaciers in the last 35 years.

The developing nations on the climate frontline will argue strongly in Poznan that rich countries should pay to help them adapt to climate change. But development groups such as Oxfam and Tearfund say that almost all the money pledged so far has come out of existing aid funds. With a worldwide recession, many analysts expect rich countries to resist paying more.

The UN has established two funds - the Least Developed Countries and Special Climate Change funds - to raise money for the poorest countries to adapt, but the G8 countries have only pledged $6bn (£4bn). All the money is to be diverted from existing aid money.

"Every [official development assistance] dollar that goes to climate adaptation would mean a dollar less for health and education [programmes] in developing countries," said Antonio Hill, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam.

The scale of what is needed for adaptation is immense. Bangladesh says it needs £250m over three years to adapt, Ethiopia £450m, and other countries similar amounts. Development groups estimate that a minimum $50bn a year is needed worldwide.

"The resources currently available for adaptation are grossly inadequate to meet the needs of the least developed countries who bear the brunt of increased climate variability and unpredictability resulting from climate change," said Bangladesh's finance minister, Mirza Azizul Islam.

Back in north-east Brazil, the Pernambuco state environment minister, Aloysio Coasta, says: "In 20 years' time we could be a desert region. In some communities there are no young people left at all. This is an emergency. Food production is going down in many areas."

Joao da Antonio's wife, Luiza, is resigned to becoming a "drought widow". Clearly distressed, she says: "If there is no water, then he must leave."

Rich nations must plan for floods, heat and drought now, warns panel

Two thousand people killed during a summer heatwave; mosquitoes at Heathrow carrying malaria parasites picked up from infected holidaymakers; road-builders switching to a melt-resistant tarmac.

If anyone is in any doubt that climate change is already affecting the UK, this is your answer. "It's not just a question of impacts in the future. We are actually looking at impacts right now," said Chris West, director of the UK Climate Impacts Programme. His job is to advise the government, private and voluntary sectors on how changes to the UK's climate will affect how they operate.

The most severe and immediate impacts of climate change will hit developing countries. But the rich, developed world will also be affected, and adapting to the changes will be extremely expensive.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fourth Assessment report last year included a detailed breakdown of impacts for regions around the world. Europe must prepare for warmer, wetter winters in the north and hotter, drier summers in the south. That is going to put severe demands on water in southern Europe and will mean more crop failures due to drought. Also, people will suffer directly. The 2003 summer heatwave killed 2,000 people in the UK alone. Winter floods will increase in maritime regions and flash floods will be more common across the continent. Coastal flooding linked to sea-level risk will threaten up to 1.6 million more people each year by 2080.

Like Europe, the US will experience the greatest warming in winter at high latitudes and hotter summers in the south-west, according to the IPCC. Climate modellers expect extremes of hot weather, wildfires, water stress, insect outbreaks and a range of health problems to increase; but there will also be benefits. Crop yields will rise 5-20% during the next few decades as the warming climate opens up more land for cultivation.

But probably the hardest hit of the developed regions will be Australia. In temperate regions, the IPCC climate models predict up to 32 more days in a year over 35°C (95F) by 2020 and up to 84 more by 2050. Water security will become a major concern with prolonged droughts a regular feature, while extreme weather and sea-level rise will cause problems for Australia's predominantly coastal population. Water flow in the Murray-Darling river basin - Australia's largest, which accounts for around 70% of irrigated crops and pastures - is expected to fall by between 10 and 25% by 2050.

Fifth of world's coral reefs dead, say marine scientists

Climate change linked to warmer and more acidic seas pose biggest threat to coral survival, says report

Plight of the coral reefs

Plight of the coral reefs. Photograph: Cathie Page

A fifth of the world's coral reefs have died or been destroyed and the remainder are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, a new study says.

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network says many surviving reefs could be lost over the coming decades as CO2 emissions continue to increase.

"If nothing is done to substantially cut emissions, we could effectively lose coral reefs as we know them, with major coral extinctions," said Clive Wilkinson of the GCRMN.

The report, released today at UN climate talks in Poznan, Poland, said warmer and more acidic seas posed the biggest threat in future. Other threats include overfishing, pollution and invasive species – as well as natural hazards, such as the earthquake that triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which forced reefs from the water.

Corals are crucial to the livelihoods of millions of coastal dwellers around the world. The UN's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment says reefs are worth about $30bn annually to the global economy through tourism, fisheries and coastal protection.

"If nothing changes, we are looking at a doubling of atmospheric CO2 in less than 50 years," said Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's global marine programme, which is one of the organisations behind the GCRMN. "As this carbon is absorbed, the oceans will become more acidic, which is seriously damaging a wide range of marine life from corals to plankton communities and from lobsters to seagrasses."

The report found that some 45% of the world's reefs are currently healthy, and that some retain the ability to recover after major bleaching events, such as the one caused by the El Niño event in 1998, and to adapt to climate change threats. But, globally, the downward trend of recent years has not been reversed.

David Obura, chair of the IUCN climate change and coral reefs working group, said: "Ten years after the world's biggest coral bleaching event, we know that reefs can recover – given the chance. Unfortunately, impacts on the scale of 1998 will reoccur in the near future, and there's no time to lose if we want to give reefs and people a chance to suffer as little as possible."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The eco machine that can magic water out of thin air

Water, Water, everywhere; nor any drop to drink. The plight of the Ancient Mariner is about to be alleviated thanks to a firm of eco-inventors from Canada who claim to have found the solution to the world's worsening water shortages by drawing the liquid of life from an unlimited and untapped source - the air.

The company, Element Four, has developed a machine that it hopes will become the first mainstream household appliance to have been invented since the microwave. Their creation, the WaterMill, uses the electricity of about three light bulbs to condense moisture from the air and purify it into clean drinking water.

The machine went on display this weekend in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, hosted by Wired magazine at its annual showcase of the latest gizmos its editors believe could change the world. From the outside, the mill looks like a giant golf ball that has been chopped in half: it is about 3ft in diameter, made of white plastic, and is attached to the wall.

It works by drawing air through filters to remove dust and particles, then cooling it to just below the temperature at which dew forms. The condensed water is passed through a self-sterilising chamber that uses microbe-busting UV light to eradicate any possibility of Legionnaires' disease or other infections. Finally, it is filtered and passed through a pipe to the owner's fridge or kitchen tap.

The obvious question to the proposition that household water demands can be met by drawing it from the air is: are you crazy? To which the machine's inventor and Element Four's founder, Jonathan Ritchey, replies: 'Just wait and see. The demand for water is off the chart. People are looking for freedom from water distribution systems that are shaky and increasingly unreliable.'

For the environmentally conscious consumer, the WaterMill has an obvious appeal. Bottled water is an ecological catastrophe. In the US alone, about 30bn litres of bottled water is consumed every year at a cost of about $11bn (£7.4bn).

According to the Earth Policy Institute, about 1.5m barrels of oil - enough to power 100,000 cars for a year - is used just to make the plastic. The process also uses twice as much water as fits inside the container, not to mention the 30m bottles that go into landfills every day in the US. But the mill also has downsides, not least its $1,200 cost when it goes on sale in America, the UK, Italy, Australia and Japan in the spring. In these credit crunch times that might dissuade many potential buyers, though Ritchey points out that at $0.3 per litre, it is much cheaper than bottled water and would pay for itself in a couple of years.

There is also the awkward fact that although there is eight times more atmospheric water than in all the rivers of the world combined, it is unevenly distributed. Those areas of the US that are most desperate for more water - such as the arid south-west where ground water levels are already dramatically depleted - have the lowest levels of moisture in the air.

The mill ceases to be effective below about 30 per cent relative humidity levels, which are common later in the day in states such as Arizona. To combat that problem, the machine has an intelligent computer built into it that increases its output at dawn when humidity is highest, and reduces it from mid-afternoon when a blazing sun dries the air.

Electric Jeepneys Challenge a Philippine Icon

From: , Global Policy Innovations Program, More from this Affiliate


The Philippine passenger jeepney has started to shed its image as a smoke-belching, eardrum-busting public utility vehicle. Originally fashioned out of WWII American military jeeps, these colorful and iconic "kings of the road" are going green.

This past summer, electric-powered jeepneys made their first commercial run in Manila's financial district of Makati City. The new environment-friendly jeepneys rolled smoothly and quietly down Makati City's main avenue, painted in bright hues and tropical designs. Gone were the traditional exhaust pipes and rumbling diesel engines.

"We consider this a historic event. This will revolutionize the transport sector in the country," Greenpeace Southeast Asia Executive Director Von Hernandez said during the commercial launch of the so-called e-jeepneys.

For years, jeepneys and other forms of road transport have been blamed for rising carbon emissions in the Philippines, particularly in sprawling metropolitan Manila. Public utility vehicles (jeepneys and buses) accounted for 32 percent of total vehicles in the Philippines in 2005, according to USAID, and the transport sector ranked second after electricity generation as a source of CO2 emissions.

A report from the United Nations Environment Program on air quality in Manila and other Asian cities suggests a link between air pollution and respiratory diseases. And the World Health Organization estimates that at least 530,000 people die prematurely each year due to urban air pollution in Asia.

The e-jeepney was conceived with the intention of reducing carbon emissions while maintaining the livelihoods of hundreds of drivers and operators. It was launched last year by Greenpeace, local governments, and other supporting NGOs under the Climate Friendly Cities initiative, a project of GRIPP (Green Renewable Independent Power Producer). The e-jeepneys underwent a year-long test drive before their commercial run this year.

The initiative has three main components: the e-jeepneys; a depot where the vehicles can be charged and maintained; and a power plant consisting of a generator, a gas engine, and a biodigester (a system that decomposes organic waste to produce biogas, which can be used to power electricity generators).

Manufactured in the Philippines by a consortium of 130 local companies, the 12-seater e-jeepneys are made of fiberglass instead of the usual metal, and they run on batteries that can be recharged at night for $3.30 per charge. At present, the batteries are recharged through wall sockets in temporary depots allocated by the host city governments, but plans are underway to use biodegradable wastes from food establishments and public markets.

The e-jeepneys can only cover short distances and are not recommended to run on unpaved roads, wrote GRIPP Coordinator Reina Garcia in an email to Policy Innovations. "There are already developments in technology that will enable these features in the future fleet," she added.

Watch the Video here:

The Philippine e-jeepney project is one of a growing number of initiatives in developing countries to reduce air pollution by improving the quality of public transportation.

In India, the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Maharashtra state reengineered the pedal rickshaw to reduce the workload of rickshaw pullers, and introduced a battery-operated model.

This October, India's Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research launched the soleckshaw, a solar-powered rickshaw that will be used extensively in the capital during the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Some scientists at CSIR hope that with modifications to the vehicle body the soleckshaw will become an alternative to small cars for middle-class families.

On a larger scale, Mexico City's Bus Rapid Transit System is widely accepted as a successful model of using more efficient buses to attract commuters. According to the World Resources Institute, which helped conceive the system, the project has encouraged commuters to leave their cars and use public transport, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 47,000 tons per year. Similarly, Bogota's Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit System reduced traffic in the Colombian capital and may have had a spillover effect on reduced crime rates.

Although the developing world has made significant steps in reducing carbon emissions through green public transport, the question remains whether some of these projects are economically sustainable.

The e-jeepney project in the Philippines is currently financed by a number of nonprofit donors with some subsidies from local governments, and India's soleckshaw project is likely to be government subsidized during its embryonic stage after commercial launch. But more often than not, government subsidies are difficult to sustain, especially during periods of financial constraint.

GRIPP plans to work with financial institutions to establish a microfinancing facility to allow jeepney operators to shift from traditional jeepneys to e-jeepneys, said Garcia. In addition, the recharging stations, now operated by local governments, "can be privatized in the future, and this will most likely occur so that there will be more stations that can be put up around the host cities," she added.

Bureaucratic red tape can also cause problems for project sustainability. Garcia noted that full roll-out of the Climate Friendly Cities initiative has been hampered by delays in the implementation of government policies. Of the three components that comprise the initiative, only the commercial launch of the e-jeepneys has been fulfilled.

Another impediment can be resistance to environment-friendly vehicles among transport operators. NARI Director Dr. Anil Rajvanshi discovered that rickshaw owners resisted the Institute's motor-assisted pedal rickshaws due to cost, regardless of the benefits to rickshaw pullers. "It is ironic that for rickshaw owners the difficult conditions faced by rickshaw pullers driving a poorly designed existing rickshaw are of no concern. They want a cheap vehicle and want to earn whatever they can from the daily hiring charges collected from the rickshaw puller," reported Rajvanshi.

E-jeepneys are facing a different kind of resistance in the Philippines. "People generally still see electric vehicles as toys—like golf carts—as opposed to a serious alternative to the current fossil-fueled vehicles. People are also unfamiliar with biogas and biogas technology," said Garcia. GRIPP and its NGO partners have launched an extensive information drive to promote the e-jeepneys and other components of the Climate Friendly Cities project.

The e-jeepney has the advantage of reduced start-up and operating costs. Priced at approximately $12,400, an e-jeepney costs at least 25 percent less than the traditional diesel-powered jeepneys that currently dominate the market. In addition, drivers who rent jeepneys from an operator no longer have to pay for gasoline, which allows them to save more of their daily earnings.

Death bloom of plankton a warning on warming

Death bloom of plankton a warning on warming

11-20) 20:27 PST -- Vanishing Arctic sea ice brought on by climate change is causing the crucially important microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton to bloom explosively and die away as never before, a phenomenon that is likely to create havoc among migratory creatures that rely on the ocean for food, Stanford scientists have found.

A few organisms may benefit from this disruption of the Arctic's fragile ecology, but a variety of animals, from gray whales to seabirds, will suffer, said Stanford biological oceanographer Kevin R. Arrigo.

"It's all a question of timing." Arrigo said. "If migratory animals reach the Arctic and find the phytoplankton's gone, they'll have missed the boat."

Phytoplankton throughout the world's oceans is the crucial nutrient at the base of the food web on which all marine life depends; when it's plentiful, life thrives and when it's gone, marine life is impossible.

Arrigo and his colleagues gathered 10 years of observations from six NASA satellites to study changes in the evidence of chlorophyll - a key to measuring the annual abundance and disappearance of phytoplankton blooms - at the surface of the oceans. The satellite network has also recorded the yearly appearance and disappearance of vast expanses of sea ice and the increasing areas of open ocean all around the Arctic, an indication of how climate change is taking hold in the northern reaches of the globe.

A report of their findings is to appear in the current issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Unwelcome changes

The annual deep freeze that has covered much of the northern seas with ice around the polar regions was once a regular event, but what has been normal for millennia in the High Arctic is no longer the case. As global climate change has warmed the world's oceans, warmer water has moved into the frigid Arctic, causing changes in the once-regular appearance and disappearance of sea ice over vast areas.

The result is a shift in when explosive blooms of phytoplankton appear and disappear, Arrigo's team has found.

"It's a complex system," Arrigo said in an interview, "but as the changes in ice cover throw the timing of phytoplankton abundance off, then the birds and animals whose brains have long been programmed to migrate north at specific times of the year will have missed the boat if there's no nourishment for them when they get there."

Every spring and summer, phytoplankton in the Arctic blooms richly in explosive pulses, nourished by nitrogen and phosphorous in the seawater, and when those chemicals are consumed, the blooms end, Arrigo said.

Lower sea ice

The summer of 2007 experienced "by far the lowest sea ice cover ever recorded," Arrigo and his colleagues said. The ice cover was an unprecedented 23 percent lower than the previous low recorded only two years earlier, according to a recent report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

As a result of all that open water, "primary production" of phytoplankton in the open ocean of the Arctic reached a peak of more than 10 million tons last year, compared with only 700,000 tons in 2006, Arrigo found.

Most of the explosive increase in plant production was due to the longer growing season made possible by the increasing extent of ice-free open ocean - particularly in the shallower waters of the continental shelves that surround the entire north polar region.

But plankton is short-lived, and when its chemical nutrients run out and the plants disappear, the marine life that depends on it is threatened.

"Continued reductions in Arctic sea ice and the associated increase in primary production (of phytoplankton) are almost certain to impact marine ecosystems ... and could precipitate profound ecological shifts," Arrigo wrote in his team's report.

Some fish and other creatures in the far north that serve as prey for animals higher in the food chain may benefit from increases in phytoplankton, but many migratory animals like gray whales and all the seabirds that shuttle to the Arctic at fixed times are bound to lose out if the timing of the phytoplankton cycle changes, Arrigo said.

His colleagues in this report are Gert van Dijken, the project's technical expert, and Sudeshna Pabi, a geophysics graduate student at Stanford.

E-mail David Perlman at

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Energy at a Tipping Point Part 1: A Conversation with Worldwatch's Chris Flavin

From: , Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate


Last week I attended a discussion entitled After the Election: Where is Cleantech Headed Now? hosted by TiE(The Indus Entrepreneurs) at their Silicon Valley headquarters. The event was moderated by Andrew Chung ofLightspeed Venture Partners with presentations by Chris Flavin of Worldwatch Institute and Dr. Dick Swanson, founder of SunPower.

Needless to say, the room was full of some very smart, visionary people with a singular focus on exploring the state of the energy sector and the potential of renewable energy to bring solutions to a beleaguered economy and stressed environment (one might say to civilization and the natural systems that support it).

In my next post we’ll look at the the main ideas of Dr. Swanson’s presentation. Here we’ll review some key points from the discussion with Chris Flavin.

Perception lags reality

Worldwatch Institute’s Chris Flavin may have summed up the entire evening in his first sentence: “Energy is at a tipping point”�. It is exciting to think we live in a time of rapid transition to a new energy economy. Flavin sees the beginnings of that transition in progress and accelerating.

Based on data from the report Renewables 2007 Global Status Report byREN21in collaboration with Worldwatch, one challenge Flavin sees is “making the fossil fuel industry believe”� that renewables offer a full-scale, “baseload”� alternative to oil and coal, and that it isn’t hovering somewhere off in the distant future.

“So much has happened in the renewable energy sector during the past five years that the perceptions of some politicians and energy-sector analysts lag far behind the reality of where the renewables industry is today”�, says Mohamed El-Ashry, Chair of REN21


Environmentalists Slam Bush's Departing Proposal As "Fire Sale" For Oil And Gas Industry

From: Huffington Post


SALT LAKE CITY — The view of Delicate Arch natural bridge _ an unspoiled landmark so iconic it's on Utah's license plates _ could one day include a drilling platform under a proposal that environmentalists call a Bush administration "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry.

Late on Election Day, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a Dec. 19 auction of more than 50,000 acres of oil and gas parcels alongside or within view of Arches National Park and two other redrock national parks in Utah: Dinosaur and Canyonlands.

The National Park Service's top official in the state calls it "shocking and disturbing" and says his agency wasn't properly notified. Environmentalists call it a "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry by a departing administration.

Officials of the BLM, which oversees millions of acres of public land in the West, say the sale is nothing unusual, and one is "puzzled" that the Park Service is upset.

"We find it shocking and disturbing," said Cordell Roy, the chief Park Service administrator in Utah. "They added 51,000 acres of tracts near Arches, Dinosaur and Canyonlands without telling us about it. That's 40 tracts within four miles of these parks."

Top aides to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne stepped into the fray, ordering the sister agencies to make amends. His press secretary, Shane Wolfe, told The Associated Press that deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett "resolved the dispute within 24 hours" last week.

A compromise ordered by the Interior Department requires the BLM to "take quite seriously" the Park Service's objections, said Wolfe.

However, the BLM didn't promise to pull any parcels from the sale, and in an interview after the supposed truce, BLM state director Selma Sierra was defiant, saying she saw nothing wrong with drilling near national parks.


Friday, November 14, 2008

The woman with a tiny carbon footprint

Forget planes, trains or automobiles - if Joan Pick wants to go anywhere, she runs. And she eats nothing but raw food. Is her lifestyle extreme or the future we must all face up to? Emine Saner meets her

Joan Pick

Joan Pick at her flat in Croydon. Photograph: Frank Baron

We all know we are meant to be reducing our carbon footprint, but I suspect that many people wouldn't be prepared to go as far as Joan Pick. She hasn't driven a car since 1973 and has only been in a petrol-guzzling vehicle twice since then (once in the hearse at her mother's funeral, the other time when an ambulance came to pick her up after she dislocated her shoulder). Her gas supply was cut off sometime when the last Labour government was in power, and her electricity usage is minimal. She eats only raw food and the only items she ever buys are new trainers - because she gets around by running everywhere. Pick is 67 and claims her lifestyle keeps her healthy. "I've been living on nothing for the past 35 years," she says.

She isn't, you gather, an average sort of person. She is charming, in her tracksuit, ready to go out running, with her hair pulled into a baseball cap bearing the symbol of the high-IQ society, Mensa. A scientist for many years, she has a mind that darts off in different directions and it can be hard to keep track of what she is talking about (perhaps because I am not a member of Mensa).

Much as I admire Pick's low impact on this frazzled earth, isn't her lifestyle all a bit, well, extreme? She shrugs her wiry shoulders. "Does it look like a hovel?" she says, throwing a beady glare around her Croydon flat. It doesn't; it is neat and tidy, and the furniture is classic 1960s - very fashionable now - that she has had for four decades. She last owned a television in 1975 and listens to Classic FM and Radio 4 on an old secondhand stereo system. The walls are hung with her own artworks. The only electricity she uses is a single light (low-energy bulbs, of course) for the evenings, and her kettle, which not only makes the tea she drinks all day, but provides the hot water for laundry - which she does by hand - and bucket baths.

Pick doesn't have heating. It is a chilly day so I keep my jacket on, but she is far less weedy than me. Doesn't she get cold? "Sometimes," she says. How does she keep warm? "Clothing and exercise," she replies. Since she gave up cooking, she now uses her heavy cast-iron saucepans as gym weights; space is cleared in her living room for hula-hooping.

She decided to start living like this, she says, "because I realised we have got the energy question totally wrong. I decided to imagine that the earth was a business in need of sound management. We are all members of the board, a shareholder, a trustee, a consumer and an employee. We believed that fossil fuels were infinite, but they are finite."

Pick was a scientist, and writer, for many years, with a particular interest in energy consumption. She despairs that most people have to be forced to change the way they live, rather than making the choices themselves. "They have to almost bribe people to use energy-efficient things. It's terrible. I adopt a [lifestyle] that is consistent with the sustainable management of the world's resources. Everyone knows we have to have very severe cutbacks to meet that standard," she says.

Her world has shrunk to the distance around her flat in south London that she can run to (which isn't small - she can run to Tower Bridge, several miles away). These days, Pick spends her time going to the library to read the papers - "It takes longer on a Thursday because I have to read the New Scientist as well, but it's so awful" - and looking through Who's Who and Google to find the addresses of the politicians, scientists and industry leaders she wants to write to (Pick is a prolific letter-writer, tapping out her missives in dense little letters on an old typewriter).

She rode a bicycle until she felt it had become too dangerous and the last time she went on a plane, she says, was 1971. Doesn't she ever want to go on holiday? "Oh no," she says. "I've never enjoyed going on holidays. You can learn about places by reading about them. My mother died in 1972, and my brother lives in Dallas, so there's no possibility of going there." I wonder if her life isn't a bit isolating. She has never married and doesn't have a partner ("a husband might expect three cooked meals a day. Can you imagine?") and she admits, with a sparkle in her eyes, that her friends and neighbours do think she's "a bit mad". Maybe she is, but perhaps we will all have to live like Pick one day.

She follows a raw vegetarian diet. "I had done studies of the food industry - the beef industry and the destruction of the rainforest to fuel it," she says. "I was at a Mensa dinner, with a vegetarian ..." She doesn't continue this thought. "I've always been a natural fatty ... I had tried every diet in the book, so I decided to try a raw-food vegetarian diet." When was the last time she ate a cooked meal? "I don't know, I can't remember." Doesn't she miss it? A nice bowl of soup, a roast dinner? "Of course not. There's no mess. Have you seen what I eat?" We go into her kitchen, where the cupboards are bare. She opens a large tub full of mixed seeds and nuts, which forms the basis of her diet, along with fruit and wheatgerm. "It's very easy to live like this. I couldn't imagine living any other way now," she says.

It seems a bit joyless to me (where are the treats?), but Pick isn't a joyless person; far from it - she's delightful. I've made her late for her daily two-hour run. We walk down the several flights of stairs together (she never uses the lift) and she runs off into the afternoon sunshine.

Life vests for polar bears on melting ice

To raise awareness for the endangered species, a design company has come up with a life-vest for displaced polar bears. From, part of the Guardian Environment Network

  •, Friday November 14 2008 15.43 GMT

 ADDI Concepts' life-vest design for displaced polar bears struggling to stay afloat

ADDI Concepts' life-vest design for displaced polar bears struggling to stay afloat

As the climate crisis mounts and Arctic icebergs slip away, polar bears are suffering starvation, population declines, and drowning as they must swim further and further to find food. Seeking to raise awareness for the endangered species' plight, ADDI Concepts has taken wildlife preservation literally by designing a life-vest for displaced polar bears struggling to stay afloat as their homes sink into the sea.

Polar bears are facing a bleak future as Arctic icebergs continue to melt and ancient shelfs of ice collapse. The species inhabits only the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding areas, and they and can hunt consistently only from sea ice.

ADDI Concepts conceived of their polar bear life jackets not as a solution for the endangered species, but as a means to increase awareness about global warming and inspire action. Their portfolio states: "A dog who lives most of its days carried around in an expensive handbag doesn't need a camouflage hoodie and a small cap over its ears. There are a few other [creatures] who we should give at least the same attention"

 ADDI Concepts' bulletproof vest for Bengal tigers ADDI Concepts' bulletproof vest for Bengal tigers

The design group has also conceived of a bulletproof vest for Bengal tigers, whose numbers have decreased by 95% since 1910 due to illegal hunting.

Japan's CO2 emissions hit record high: official

From: , The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), More from this Affiliate


Japan's carbon dioxide emissions

hit a record high of 1.37 billion tons in the year to March 2008, well above the target set by the Kyoto Protocol, the environment ministry said Wednesday.

The figure, which marked a 2.3 percent rise from the previous fiscal year, was mainly the result of more polluting energy production following the closure of the world's biggest nuclear power plant after it was damaged in an earthquake that struck northern Japan.

"The greater use of thermal power plants due to reduced nuclear power operations significantly contributed to the increase," an environment ministry official said.

The data shows that Japan's CO2 emission rose 8.7 percent from the 1990 level.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan is committed to reducing its emissions by six percent from the benchmark year in the period between 2008 and 2012. Japan relies on nuclear plants for nearly one-third of its power needs.

Leaders of the Group of Eight rich nations -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- called at a summit in Japan in July for global cuts in CO2 of at least 50 percent by 2050, without specifying the base year.

Negotiations are under way to draft a new environmental treaty covering the period after the Kyoto Protocol's obligations expire in 2012.

This article is reproduced with kind permission of Agence France-Presse (AFP) For more news and articles visit the AFP website.

California gets dire warning on global warming

From: Mercury News

Global warming will have a broad and devastating impact on California's economy over the next century, according to a report released Thursday.

Roads and bridges, the water supply, agriculture, public health and even winter skiing all will be affected by global climate change, said the report by University of California-Berkeley agricultural and resource economics professors David Roland-Holst and Fredrich Kahrl.

The report said damage could reach many billions of dollars per year. In real estate alone, up to $2.5 trillion of the state's $4 trillion worth of homes and other buildings are at risk from rising sea levels, wildfires and other extreme weather events occurring as the world gets warmer, it said.

The 127-page report was funded by the nonprofit Next 10 foundation that studies California's future and the intersection of the economy and the environment.

This is the first time a major academic institution has attempted to put a price tag on the potential climate damage in California between now and the year 2100, the researchers said.

In an interview, Roland-Holst said that despite the staggering numbers, he didn't want his research to be seen as a doomsday report.

"It's not Chicken Little. It is a wake-up call," he said. "The estimates at the moment have a lot of uncertainty, but we really have to take this seriously."

Article Continues:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thousands flee fighting as Congo rebels seize gorilla park

  • Story Highlights
  • Congolese rebels seize military camp and Virunga Park's gorilla sanctuary
  • Fighting breaks week-old cease-fire between rebels and government forces
  • 50 park rangers fled for their lives; very rare mountain gorillas in danger
  • Congo's war has taken 5.4 million lives since 1998; 45,000 people die every month

(CNN) -- Congolese rebels seized a major military camp and a spacious gorilla park in a renewed bout of heavy fighting that sent thousands fleeing, according to the United Nations and park officials.

Young gorillas play in Congo's Virunga Park, which was taken over Sunday by rebels fighting army forces.

Young gorillas play in Congo's Virunga Park, which was taken over Sunday by rebels fighting army forces.

The fighting comes after a tenuous week-old U.N. brokered cease-fire between rebels and government forces fell apart Sunday.

Fighting between the rebels under renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda and Congolese army regulars in the eastern province of North Kivu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo displaced thousands of civilians, according to U.N. spokesman Michele Bonnardeaux.

The rebels also seized the headquarters of Virunga National Park in eastern Congo after intense fighting with the Congolese army, according to a statement by park officials.

The rebels have used Virunga Park as a base but have never seized its headquarters before.

The 3,000 square mile (7,800 square kilometer) park has a gorilla facility and is home to 200 of the 700 endangered mountain gorillas in existence.

"Over 50 rangers were forced to flee into the forests and abandon the park station, in fear of their lives," the park statement said.

"They have seized the entire gigantic infrastructure [of the park headquarters] which is stategically very close to the main road heading north into Goma," said park spokeswoman Samantha Newport by phone from Goma, about 40 kilometers from the fighting.

"The situation is eastern Congo is very dangerous," she said. "It's the first time they've [rebels] ever had the audacity" to take over the park.

Newport said the rebels have set up roadblocks so the rangers are making their way through woods south to safety.

She said the gorillas and other wildlife in the park are in danger of getting caught in the crossfire.

A park ranger described the takeover.

"When the rebels started approaching the park station we thought we were all going to be killed," said Park Ranger Bareke Sekibibi, 29, who spoke by cell phone from the forest earlier as he fled, according to the park statement.

" We are not military combatants, we are park rangers protecting Virunga's wildlife."


Although the civil war in the Congo officially ended in 2003, recent fighting in eastern Congo between government forces and rebels has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes

The conflict and humanitarian crisis in Congo have taken the lives of some 5.4 million people since 1998, and that 45,000 people continue to die there every month, according to an International Rescue Committee report in January.

Climate change may drown cities



JOHANNESBURG, 24 October 2008 (IRIN) - People in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, prefer to commute in three-wheeled autorickshaws, taxis and buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), in their bid to slow down global warming

CNG produces a lower level of greenhouse gases and is an environmentally cleaner alternative to petrol. Dhaka's residents are among the most vulnerable to global warming and don't want to become "climate terrorists".

The city is among more than 3,000 identified by the UN-Habitat's State of the World's Cities 2008/09 as facing the prospect of sea level rise and surge-induced flooding. The report warns policymakers, planners and the world at large that few coastal cities will be spared the effects of global warming.

Asia accounts for more than half the most vulnerable cities, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (27 percent) and Africa (15 percent); two-thirds of the cities are in Europe, and almost one-fifth of all cities in North America are in Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ).

During the 1900s, sea levels rose by an estimated 17cm; global mean projections for sea level rise between 1990 and 2080 range from 22cm to 34cm, according to the UN-Habitat researchers.

The report points out that by 2070, urban populations in river cities, such as Dhaka, Kolkata (India), Yangon (Myanmar), and Hai Phong (on the coast near Hanoi in Vietnam), which already experience a high risk of flooding, will join the group of populations most exposed to this danger. Port cities in Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, and India will have joined the ranks of cities whose assets are most at risk.

African coastal cities that could be severely be affected by rising sea levels include Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Alexandria (Egypt), Algiers (Algeria), Cape Town (South Africa), Casablanca (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Djibouti (Djibouti), Durban (South Africa), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Lagos (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon), Lome (Togo), Luanda (Angola), Maputo (Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya), Port Louis (Mauritius), and Tunis (Tunisia).

Dhaka is wedged between huge rivers like the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, with hundreds of tributaries swollen with increasing glacial melt from the Himalayan ranges as a result of soaring global temperatures.

"The elevation in Dhaka ranges between two and 13 metres above sea level, which means that even a slight rise in sea level is likely to engulf large parts of the city. Moreover, high urban growth rates and high urban densities have already made Dhaka more susceptible to human-induced environmental disasters," said the UN-Habitat report.

"With an urban growth rate of more than four percent annually, Dhaka, which already hosts more than 13 million people, is one of the fastest growing cities in Southern Asia, and is projected to accommodate more than 20 million by 2025.

"The sheer number of people living in the city means that the negative consequences of climate change are likely to be felt by a large number of people, especially the urban poor who live in flood-prone and water-logged areas."

A total 634 million people in the world live in LECZ that lie at or below 10 metres above sea level, according to a recent report,Planet Prepare, by World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation. Although LECZ constitute only two percent of the earth's landmass, they contain 10 percent of its population and have a higher rate of urbanisation than the rest of the world.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, notes his concern about the prospect of large-scale devastation in his foreword to the UN-Habitat report, saying: "Cities embody some of society's most pressing challenges, from pollution and disease to unemployment and lack of adequate shelter. But cities are also venues where rapid, dramatic change is not just possible but expected."

Dhaka is preparing for flood protection. The government, prompted by frequent flooding in the 1980s, has already completed embankments, reinforced concrete walls and pumping stations in the most densely populated part of the city.

The UN report cautioned that Dhaka's solutions should also take into consideration unresolved development problems, such as the growing slum population, which has doubled in the last decade and shows no signs of abating.

The World Vision report pointed out that other urban centres not physically challenged by global warming would also face tremendous challenges, with the possible influx of "environmental refugees" from affected cities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has urged global greenhouse gas emission reductions of 50 percent to 85 percent by 2050, based on 2000 emissions, to avoid a 2°Celsius increase in global mean temperature.

Such an increase is expected to destroy 30 percent to 40 percent of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense weather events like floods and cyclones.

The IPCC and activists have called on the global community to focus on preventing global warming from crossing the perilous 2°C threshold, which requires keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations below 350ppm (parts per million).

"The problem is, they [concentrations] already stand at 385ppm (2008), rising by 2ppm annually," said the World Vision report. "Since there are no rewind buttons for running down emitted greenhouse gas stocks, implicational reasoning suggests immediate and stringent emissions cuts."

Eminent scientists, such as James E. Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, are warning that even the 2-degree threshold may likely not be safe enough to avoid "global disaster".

European Scientists: 'Let's Set Up A Global Solar Energy Grid'

From: , Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate


The Europeans are serious about nanotechnology to wean countries off using fossil fuels in the next century. There´s considerable interest in setting up a solar grid that is global because the sun consistently shines on some part of the planet.

The technologies European scientists say are going to dominate the sustainable energy sector include Dye Sensitized solar Cells (DSCs) and biomimetics. These two technologies are popular because they show great promise for capturing or storing solar energy. At the same time, nanocatalysis already has begun to churn out efficient methods for energy-saving industrial processes convincingly.

The ground tone at the recent European Science Foundation conference about Nanotechnology for Sustainable Energy was overly clear about it; Europe is ready to accelerate development of nano technologies. The conference focused on solar rather than other sustainable energy sources such as wind, because that is where nanotechnology is most applicable and also because solar energy conversion holds the greatest promise as a long-term replacement of fossil fuels.

Solar energy can be harvested directly to generate electricity or to yield fuels such as hydrogen for use in engines. Such fuels can also in turn be used indirectly to generate electricity in conventional power stations. "The potential of solar power is much, much larger in absolute numbers than that of wind," according to Professor Bengt Kasemo, who chaired the conference and who is attached to the Chalmers University of Technology.

A drawback of solar energy is that it -like wind energy- varies greatly across time and geography. That's because it is confined to the daytime and less suitable for regions in higher latitudes, such as Scandinavia and Siberia. For this reason there is growing interest in the idea of a global electricity grid according to Kasemo.

"If solar energy is harvested where it is most abundant, and distributed on a global net (easy to say - and a hard but not impossible task to do) it will be enough to replace a large fraction of today's fossil-based electricity generation," said Kasemo. "It also would solve the day/night problem and therefore reduce storage needs because the sun always shines somewhere."

Sources at the conference and independent organizations say that in the immediate future, solid state technologies based on silicon are likely to predominate the production (manufacture) of solar cells, but DSC and other "runners ups" are likely to lower costs in the long term, using cheaper semiconductor materials to produce robust flexible sheets strong enough to resist buffeting from hail for example.

Although less efficient than the very best silicon or thin film cells using current technology, their better price/performance has led the European Union to predict that DSCs will be a significant contributor to renewable energy production in Europe by 2020. The DSC was invented by a Swiss professor,Michael Grätzel, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne, who was one of the speakers and vice chair at the ESF conference.

One key point to emerge from the ESF conference is that there will be growing choice and competition between emerging nanotechnology-based solar conversion technologies. "I think the important fact is that there is strong competition and that installed solar power is growing very rapidly, albeit from a small base," said Kasemo."This will push prices down and make solar electricity more and more competitive."

Some of the most exciting of these alternatives are biomimetics, which involves mimicking processes that have been perfected in biological organisms through eons of evolution. Plants and a class of bacteria, cyanobacteria, have evolved photosynthesis, involving the harvesting of light and the splitting of water into electrons and protons to provide a stream of energy that in turn produces the key molecules of life.

Photosynthesis can potentially be harnessed either in genetically-engineered organisms, or completely artificial human-made systems that mimic the processes, to produce carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen. Alternatively, photosynthesis could be tweaked to produce fuels such as alcohol or even hydrocarbons that do contain carbon molecules but recycle them from the atmosphere and therefore make no net contribution to carbon dioxide levels above ground.

Biomimetics could also solve the longstanding problem of how to store large amounts of electricity efficiently. This could finally open the floodgates for electrically-powered vehicles by enabling them at last to match the performance and range of their petrol or diesel-based counterparts.

Because in spite of all the excitement, the commercial realisation of biomimetic and other emerging technologies is still quite far off. But meantime nanotechnology has an important contribution to make, improving the efficiency of existing energy-generating systems during the transition from fossil fuels.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) presented a virus based type of solar electricity. The presentation by Angela Belcher showed the details of a type of virus that infects E.coli bacteria (a bacteriophage) capable of coating itself in electrically-conducting materials like gold. This can be used to build compact high capacity batteries, with the added advantage that it can potentially assemble itself, exploiting the natural replicating ability of the virus. The key to the high capacity in small space lies in the microscopic size of the nanowires constructed by the viruses - this means that a greater surface area of charge carrying capacity can be packed into a given volume.


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