Friday, March 21, 2008

New horizon: what we can expect as nature changes

· Forecast identifies threats and opportunities
· Rising demands putting pressure on habitats

This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday March 20 2008 on p23 of the UK news section.

Artificial life forms, robots that mimic natural processes, and even people who spend all day in front of the computer and rarely experience the real outdoors, may all fundamentally affect the quality of nature in Britain over the next 45 years.

According to 35 environmental scientists, drawn from the government as well as colleges and charities, a host of new threats and opportunities for UK biodiversity is gathering pace as technologies develop, social habits alter and the possibility of large-scale responses to phenomena like climate change grows.

The scientists have drawn up a list of 25 factors, including the rising demand for food and biofuels, thought to be having an immediate effect. These, say the scientists, are already putting worse pressure on the habitats of birds and mammals.

Others factors, such as sea-level rise, extra fire risk and extreme weather events, are looming with climate change.

But many more challenges, identified in the "horizon-scanning" report, come from what now appears science fiction. Environmental manipulation could be a quick-fix way to mitigate climate change, scientists say. Putting trillions of lenses in orbit to deflect the sun's energy, building giant mirrors in space, fertilising oceans with iron filings and laying reflective covers on deserts, have all been suggested, says the paper in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.

The paper's authors do not try to judge the ideas or even predict any follow-up. However, they say the public reaction to GM food, in particular, has taught them to look ahead to what society is likely to consider important.

Bill Sutherland, lead author and chair in conservation biology at Cambridge University, said studies were needed in emerging areas. "We need to have the science ready before policies are made and products are on the market ... the necessary science was not done before the introduction of biofuels. In terms of the environmental consequences and societal concerns, we should have thought of all these things before."

High on the list of new technologies that may profoundly affect nature are revolutionary nanotechnology processes involving minute particles. These also have biological properties and the scientists think it will be a huge challenge to predict their impact.

One potentially positive development could be large-scale restoration of habitats to encourage wildlife seen as iconic. In a Dutch experiment, a 13,800-acre reserve was created with populations of animals that were common in medieval times. The paper says comparable schemes are likely to occur in places such as East Anglia and the Scottish Highlands where creatures such as the lynx might be introduced.

The paper's authors are concerned about new pathogens, from overseas or developed through biotechnology.

"A series of fungal pathogens have devastated north American forests. One has recently appeared in the UK and could have similar impacts on native woodlands," says the paper. "New pathogens [affecting] people and livestock are likely to become established in the UK in future as climate change allows them to survive. But this could increase the use of insecticides. If, for instance, malaria established itself in Britain because of climate change, widespread drainage of wetlands and ponds could be recommended."

Other human factors are also acknowledged. Were bird flu or rabies to get established in British wildlife, the authors say, public attitudes to biodiversity might alter profoundly.

"This could lead to reduced political and financial support for conservation, and higher rates of killing wildlife." Equally, while the internet informs, there is a danger that sedentary lives will erode engagement with nature and care for the environment. "Young people spend about half the time outdoors compared to 20 years ago. This leads to a fall in knowledge of biodiversity."

Key issues

· Politics: policies may be unable to keep pace with the environmental changes of the future

· Extreme weather: local wildlife extinctions are likely

· More food demand: habitat loss and intensification of farming

· New genetically modified pathogens: likely reduction of
critical species

· Sea level rise: some new habitats, but great damage from salt

· River flow: climate change will greatly alter river ecology

· More biofuels: possibly more pesticides, loss of habitat

· Increased fire risk: some new habitats, but big potential impact

· Invasions: alien species can move in from abroad

· Nanotechnologies: can help with pollution cleanup but could be toxic

· Artificial lifeforms and bio-robots: possibly invasive

· Renewable energy: new safe havens, but also damage possible

· Internet: no substitute for people experiencing nature for themselves

Reichstag to run solely on renewable power

· Wind, water and solar sources to fuel building
· German parliament to be the world's greenest

This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday March 21 2008 on p29 of the International section.

The German Reichstag is expected to become the greenest parliament building in the world, thanks to a decision to rely solely on renewable energy.

From late summer the building is due to swap to green power sources such as water, wind and solar energy, replacing the conventional power that it has largely relied upon until now.

Its extensive refurbishment in the late 1990s, including the glass cupola designed by the British architect Sir Norman Foster, had already won it plaudits. Ecologists praised the building's energy efficiency, which has led to a 94% cut in its carbon emissions.

Its roof makes passive use of solar power and natural light and its thick, well-insulated 19th-century walls help retain warmth in winter and reduce the need for air conditioning in summer.

At the moment biofuel generators in the basement produce 40% of the building's energy, for lighting, heating, the flow of air conditioning and water, while the rest comes mainly from coal and nuclear supplies.

But in future the Reichstag, which has been the home of Germany's parliament for nine years, will go a step further, entirely abandoning conventional sources in favour of renewables, which will be provided by an outside supplier.

A parliamentary subcommittee agreed last week to seek bids from renewable energy producers to replace that conventional power use, and expects to choose a supplier by late summer.

Currently, it costs approximately €3m (£2.3m) a year to provide the energy that keeps the building's lights on, air conditioning flowing and water running.

Parliamentarians hope that the switch to clean energy will boost Germany's reputation as one of the greenest countries in the world and help the renewable energy sector. Germany has one of the most globally successful and innovative clean energy industries. Boosted by a subsidy system, around 13% of its electricity comes from renewable power - mostly wind - a figure that is set to rise to 27% over the next 12 years.

The greening of the Reichstag fits in with a growing trend in zero-emission homes in Germany, with some homes so energy-efficient that they even produce power. The owners are allowed to sell their surplus back to the grid for generous returns.

Melting glaciers will shrink grain harvests in China and India.

From: Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute


The world is now facing a climate-driven shrinkage of river-based irrigation water supplies. Mountain glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau are melting and could soon deprive the major rivers of India and China of the ice melt needed to sustain them during the dry season. In the Ganges, the Yellow, and the Yangtze river basins, where irrigated agriculture depends heavily on rivers, this loss of dry-season flow will shrink harvests.

The world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting mountain glaciers of Asia. China and India are the world’s leading producers of both wheat and rice—humanity’s food staples. China’s wheat harvest is nearly double that of the United States, which ranks third after India. With rice, these two countries are far and away the leading producers, together accounting for over half of the world harvest.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that Himalayan glaciers are receding rapidly and that many could melt entirely by 2035. If the giant Gangotri Glacier that supplies 70 percent of the Ganges flow during the dry season disappears, the Ganges could become a seasonal river, flowing during the rainy season but not during the summer dry season when irrigation water needs are greatest.

Yao Tandong, a leading Chinese glaciologist, reports that the glaciers on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau in western China are now melting at an accelerating rate. He believes that two thirds of these glaciers could be gone by 2060, greatly reducing the dry-season flow of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. Like the Ganges, the Yellow River, which flows through the arid northern part of China, could become seasonal. If this melting of glaciers continues, Yao says, “[it] will eventually lead to an ecological catastrophe.”

Even as India and China face these future disruptions in river flows, overpumping is depleting the underground water resources that both countries also use for irrigation. For example, water tables are falling everywhere under the North China Plain, the country’s principal grain-producing region. When an aquifer is depleted, the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge. In India, water tables are falling and wells are going dry in almost every state.

On top of this already grim shrinkage of underground water resources, losing the river water used for irrigation could lead to politically unmanageable food shortages. The Ganges River, for example, which is the largest source of surface water irrigation in India, is a leading source of water for the 407 million people living in the Gangetic Basin.

In China, both the Yellow and Yangtze rivers depend heavily on ice melt for their dry-season flow. The Yellow River basin is home to 147 million people whose fate is closely tied to the river because of low rainfall in the basin. The Yangtze is China’s leading source of surface irrigation water, helping to produce half or more of China’s 130-million-ton rice harvest. It also meets many of the other water needs of the watershed’s 368 million people. (See data at

The population in either the Yangtze or Gangetic river basin is larger than that of any country other than China or India. And the ongoing shrinkage of underground water supplies and the prospective shrinkage of river water supplies are occurring against a startling demographic backdrop: by 2050 India is projected to add 490 million people and China 80 million.

In a world where grain prices have recently climbed to record highs, with no relief in sight, any disruption of the wheat or rice harvests due to water shortages in these two leading grain producers will greatly affect not only people living there but consumers everywhere. In both of these countries, food prices will likely rise and grain consumption per person can be expected to fall. In India, where just over 40 percent of all children under five years of age are underweight and undernourished, hunger will intensify and child mortality will likely climb.

For China, a country already struggling to contain food price inflation, there may well be spreading social unrest as food supplies tighten. Food security in China is a highly sensitive issue. Anyone in China who is 50 years of age or older is a survivor of the Great Famine of 1959—61, when, according to official figures, 30 million Chinese starved to death. This is also why Beijing has worked so hard in recent decades to try and maintain grain self-sufficiency.

As food shortages unfold, China will try to hold down domestic food prices by using its massive dollar holdings to import grain, most of it from the United States, the world’s leading grain exporter. Even now, China, which a decade or so ago was essentially self-sufficient in soybeans, is importing 70 percent of its supply, helping drive world soybean prices to an all-time high. As irrigation water supplies shrink, Chinese consumers will be competing with Americans for the U.S. grain harvest. India, too, may try to import large quantities of grain, although it may lack the economic resources to do so, especially if grain prices keep climbing. Many Indians will be forced to tighten their belts further, including those who have no notches left.

The glaciologists have given us a clear sense of how fast glaciers are shrinking. The challenge now is to translate their findings into national energy policies designed to save the glaciers. At issue is not just the future of mountain glaciers, but the future of world grain harvests.

The alternative to this civilization-threatening scenario is to abandon business-as-usual energy policies and move to cut carbon emissions 80 percent—not by 2050 as many political leaders suggest, because that will be too late, but by 2020, as outlined in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. The first step is to ban new coal-fired power plants, a move that is fast gaining momentum in the United States.

Ironically, the two countries that are planning to build most of the new coal-fired power plants, China and India, are precisely the ones whose food security is most massively threatened by the carbon emitted from burning coal. It is now in their interest to try and save their mountain glaciers by shifting energy investment from coal-fired power plants into energy efficiency and into wind farms, solar thermal power plants, and geothermal power plants. China, for example, can double its current electrical generating capacity from wind alone.

We know from studying earlier civilizations that declined and collapsed that it was often shrinking harvests that were responsible. For the Sumerians, it was rising salt concentrations in the soil that lowered wheat and barley yields and brought down this remarkable early civilization. For the Mayans, it was soil erosion following deforestation that undermined their agriculture and set the stage for their demise. For our twenty-first century civilization, it is rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations and the associated rise in temperature that threatens future harvests.

At issue is whether we can mobilize to lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations before higher temperatures melt the mountain glaciers that feed the major rivers of Asia and elsewhere, and before shrinking harvests lead to an unraveling of our civilization. The good news is that we have the energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to dramatically reduce CO2 concentrations if we choose to do so.

Data and additional resources at


China’s SUV Culture: Flaunting Fat Wallets While Choking on Dirty Air

From: , Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate


As sport utility vehicles (SUVs) become increasingly unpopular in Europe and the United States, the gas-guzzling wagons are capturing the attention of an expanding class of Chinese consumers: the new rich. The rapid increase in SUV sales in China is the result of a strong push by international automakers to capitalize on the huge Chinese market, using captivating ads to stimulate an individualistic SUV culture. This trend, if left unchecked, will likely only compound the already serious air-quality problems in a country beleaguered by mounting urban air pollution.

China's auto industry has expanded at double-digit annual growth rates in recent years, thanks in part to cheap fuel prices that remain under tight government control. Against this background, SUVs fared particularly well in 2007. According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, more than 370,000 of the vehicles were sold in China last year, a 58 percent increase over 2006. The bulk of the sales concentrated on mid- and high-end models, which are expected to dominate the market in 2008.

Imports of luxury SUVs in 2007 hit record levels, with popular brands ranging from BMW and Porsche to Lexus, Cadillac, and Volvo. All major international automakers are accelerating their entry into China's burgeoning SUV market, with General Motors, Kia, and Buick also planning to introduce models in the country in the near term.

SUV buyers comprise a relatively small group of China's new rich, who represent the top of the nation's income pyramid. While personal cars are still beyond the reach of the average Chinese citizen, for the country's most affluent, luxury SUVs are becoming their second or third vehicle. Price and cost are not a limitation, and what buyers look for in the chunky and sturdy vehicles is the image the SUVs convey, which caters to their aspirations for novelty and individualism.

Ads featuring the tough and agile vehicles maneuvering over rough terrain-long common in the Western media-are now instilling in Chinese customers the message of an SUV culture generated in the West. By appealing to the suppressed side of human nature, the ads convey to buyers a sense of freedom and individualism, bringing "wildness" to urban centers while enabling dominance on the road.

China's SUV buyers gain self-satisfaction from sitting high behind the wheel in a roomy compartment, distinct from the rest of society in wealth, status, and perceived taste. Yet these drivers are neglecting the common ground they share with other urban dwellers: foul air. Chinese cities already suffer from serious industrial air pollution from coal burning, and auto emissions have become a major pollution source in recent years.

According to a recent Worldwatch Institute report, only 1 percent of the 577 million urban Chinese breathe air that meets the European Union's air-quality standards. An unpublished World Bank study in 2007 concluded that poor air quality is causing between 350,000 and 400,000 premature deaths in China each year. SUVs, known for their high emissions relative to standard vehicles, are contributing a disproportional share of that pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In an era when all people are threatened by a warming planet, concerned citizens around the world are making greener choices. Even in the United States, where the SUV culture first emerged, green consumption has become a national trend. Ironically, China's new SUV owners, who thrive on emulating Western lifestyles and the latest fashions, seem to have missed the fact that the gas-guzzling vehicles are no longer "in."

Yingling Liu is manager of the China Program at the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-D.C. based environmental research organization.

The Reality of Renewables

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


In the 1970s they were called “new and renewable energies” a grouping that allowed energy planners to lump nuclear energy (relatively new) in with hydro, solar, wind and biomass. A WBCSD Learning by Sharing session at our October meeting in Brussels focused on new and renewable energies in Europe and some of the barriers to realizing the high official hopes for them there.

The very name renewable has great appeal, as it promises unlimited sources of relatively clean energy daily, such as sunlight or a breeze. But today, when we need them to greatly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they are not ready because they were never able to overcome the marketplace muscle of cheap coal and oil. This market strength makes targets for renewable energy use, such as the 20% mandatory target set by the European Union, either overly ambitious or overly naïve. Participants in the Brussels session heard that the share of traditional renewables, especially hydro, in the overall mix of energy sources has declined and is lower than it was 30 years ago. Hydro will still be in first position among all renewables in 2050, approaching 50% of total renewables production.

Biomass accounts for 10-11% of all primary energy, but this is mostly the cooking fires of the developing world, with their devastating effects on health through indoor air pollution.

Wind is the largest second-generation technology available today, with 25% growth in 2006 and a global market value of 8 billion Euros and costing 4-8 Euro cents per kWh for onshore production. Key issues surrounding it are wind variability and forecasting. Solar is the next largest second generation technology It has huge potential, but at 12-20 Euro cents per kWh it also has huge costs. Installed capacity is increasing 40% per year, while costs are decreasing by 18-20% for every doubling of installed capacity. Solar is more effective in areas with lots of sun, and it requires state-of-the-art batteries to store the electricity. It is good for off-grid solutions, but as more people move into cities, there are fewer in the countryside who need such solutions.

In order to make the picture a bit rosier for renewables, some European companies are calling for harmonized government certificates for CO2 emissions, rather than the 30-some different support systems currently in place. For example, the UK’s Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) is issued to an accredited generator for eligible renewable electricity generated within the UK and supplied to customers within the country by a licensed electricity provider. It places an obligation on UK electricity suppliers to source an increasing proportion of their electricity from renewable sources.

Harmonizing these certificate programs throughout Europe would put governments and business in a win-win situation, lowering emissions and growing the marketplace for renewables. Business would also like to see the removal of national feed-in tariff systems (a regulated rate paid by the utility to a private electricity producer) that arguably stymie innovation in that the regulators pick the technology and set the price.

A common market would be more efficient, making the transport and sharing of resources (such as biomass) easier. It would create a European arena for innovation where technology is crucial and can benefit from active research, common development policies and public support.

However, the relatively low historic price of fossil fuels has slowed innovation in renewables, and participants felt that the price of oil would have to stay well over US$ 60 per barrel to encourage companies and governments to embrace renewables.

Politicians who want to see more use of renewables will have to subsidize more. The average price of electricity will need to go up in order meet the EU’s 2020 target, an increase that would have to be covered by subsidies, carbon taxes and green certificates.

Nuclear energy works well in many parts of the world but has enjoyed high government subsidies and legal protection. Nuclear is currently a lot cheaper than renewables, at 4 Euro cents per kWh as opposed to 6 on average for renewables, because of those subsidies.

The discussion concluded that getting anywhere close to Europe’s goals will require a clever patchwork of solutions to overcome present technological, economic and policy barriers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arctic pollution's surprising history

From: University of Utah


Study: Early explorers saw particulate haze in late 1800s

Scientists know that air pollution particles from mid-latitude cities migrate to the Arctic and form an ugly haze, but a new University of Utah study finds surprising evidence that polar explorers saw the same phenomenon as early as 1870.

“The reaction from some colleagues — when we first mentioned that people had seen haze in the late 1800s — was that it was crazy,” says Tim Garrett, assistant professor of meteorology and senior author of the study. “Who would have thought the Arctic could be so polluted back then? Our instinctive reaction is to believe the world was a cleaner place 130 years ago.”

The study will be published soon in the March 2008 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

By searching through historic records written by early Arctic explorers, Garrett and his collaborator Lisa Verzella, former undergraduate student at the University of Utah, were able to find evidence of an aerosol “dry haze” that settled onto the ice to form a layer of grayish dust containing metallic particles. The haze and dust were likely the byproducts of smelting and coal combustion generated during the Industrial Revolution.

“We searched through open literature, including a report in the second issue of the journal Science in 1883 by the famous Swedish geologist Adolf Erik Nordenskiold, who was the first to describe the haze,” says Garrett. “We also looked through books describing Arctic expeditions that had to be translated from Norwegian and French.”

The historic accounts show that more than 130 years ago, the Industrial Revolution was “already darkening the snow and skies of the far North,” Garrett says.

History of Arctic Pollution

Garrett and Verzella say the first report of Arctic haze pollution usually is credited to a U.S. Air Force meteorologist J. Murray Mitchell, who in 1957 described “the high incidence of haze at flight altitudes” during weather reconnaissance missions from Alaska over the Arctic Ocean during the late 1940s and 1950s.

Mitchell was credited in the 1970s by Glenn Shaw from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and his collaborators Kenneth Rahn and Randolf Borys, from the University of Rhode Island, who were the first to discover the haze contained high levels of heavy metals, including vanadium, suggestive of heavy oil combustion.

In a later study, Rahn and Shaw said: “Arctic haze is the end product of massive transport of air pollution from various mid-latitude sources to the northern polar regions, on a scale that could never have been imagined, even by the most pessimistic observer.”

Since humans had been generating aerosol pollution long before 1950 — namely, since sometime after the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s — it made sense to Garrett that pollution generated from earlier times also might have made it to northern latitudes from Europe, Asia and North America.

“I thought that pollution had to be observed in the Arctic prior to 1950, so I decided to find out if that was true,” says Garrett. So he hired Verzella to search historic records to determine if there was written evidence of early Arctic pollution.

Verzella found a number of published reports from the late 1800s to early 1900s that mention a whitish haze in the sky, or a gray or black dust on the ice. But Nordenskiold “was the first to explicitly draw attention to the haze phenomenon” during his 1883 expedition to Greenland, the researchers concluded.

Even during an earlier expedition in 1870, Nordenskiold observed “a fine dust, gray in color, and, when wet, black or dark brown, is distributed over the inland ice in a layer which I should estimate at from 0.1 to 1 millimeter.”

He found that the dust contained “metallic iron, which could be drawn out by the magnet, and which, under the blowpipe, gave a reaction of cobalt and nickel.” He believed it to be a “cosmic dust” possibly from meteors. However, the concentration of metallic iron, nickel and cobalt made it much more likely that the origin was industrial pollution generated at mid-latitudes.

Last year, other researchers found that the dust is present in ice core samples. “Recent Greenland ice cores show a rapid rise in anthropogenic soot and sulfate that began in the late 1800s, but with peak sulfate levels in the 1970s, and peak soot between 1906 and 1910,” Garrett and Verzella say in their study. A higher composition of sulfate suggests oil combustion, while higher soot suggests coal combustion, consistent with the main sources of pollution generated in the 20th versus 19th centuries.

Early Arctic Warming

In a 2006 study, Garrett concluded that particulate pollution from mid-latitudes aggravates global warming in the Arctic. Did it do the same back in the 1800s?

“It is reasonable that the effect of particulate pollution on Arctic climate may have been greater 130 years ago than it is now, because during the Industrial Revolution, technologies were dirtier than they are now,” says Garrett. “Of course, today carbon dioxide emissions are greater and have accumulated over the last century, so the warming effect due to carbon dioxide is much greater today than 100 years ago.”

In fact, after fossil-fuel combustion became more efficient in the mid-1900s, the levels of particulate pollution in the Arctic dropped dramatically from levels earlier in the century. However, Garrett believes that we might be seeing another increase due to higher emissions from developing industrial countries such as China.

Tiny Mexican porpoise near extinct from fish nets


By Tomas Sarmiento

SAN FELIPE, Mexico (Reuters) - The vaquita, a tiny stubby-nosed porpoise found only in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, is on the brink of extinction as more die each year in fishing nets than are being born, biologists say.

A drop in vaquita numbers to as few as 150 from around 600 at the start of the decade could see the famously shy animal go the same way as the Chinese river dolphin, which was declared all but extinct in 2006.

"The urgency now is to prevent the vaquita becoming extinct," Omar Vidal, the WWF conservation group's director in Mexico, told Reuters in San Felipe, a fishing town in the upper Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortez, where the vaquitas live.

"The latest studies suggest that we have perhaps one or two years for that," said Vidal, one of a team that has been battling to preserve the species for over 10 years.

The world's smallest porpoise, growing to a maximum of 5 feet long and gray in color, vaquitas are so timid that they are hardly ever sighted.

They shun the showy acrobatics of other porpoises, and when they come up for air they poke their odd-looking faces, with their black-circled eyes and beak, above the surface for just a second or two before diving quietly back below.

Identified only 50 years ago when some skulls were found, vaquitas are tracked using underwater microphones to pick up the high frequency clicks they use to communicate.


The drop in numbers suggests they are getting tangled in fishing nets at a faster rate than they can reproduce.

Female vaquitas only produce young once every two years and the genetic pool is now too small for effective breeding.

Meanwhile mesh gillnets used to catch sea bass, mackerel, shrimp and sharks also trap and drown air-breathing vaquitas, whose name is Spanish for "little cow."

The government is trying to persuade some fishermen to ditch their nets and start conservation-based tourism businesses, like boat trips to see marine life.

But one person in four in the area lives off fishing and few want to give up a trade where a small fishing boat can haul in 441 pounds (200 kg) of blue shrimp, worth thousands of dollars to the export market, in a single day.

"We've been fishermen all our lives. It's what we do," said Tomas Ceballos, 51, talking over the top of a government official trying to promote a scheme of financial incentives to start tourism projects.

Conservationists are also trying to get fishermen to switch to new nets that are less likely to trap vaquita.

Jose Campoy, head of a marine reserve set up in 1993 to protect endangered species in the area, said one vaquita death a year in nets was too many for the struggling species.

Environment Minister Juan Elvira Quesada said the government would spend $10 million this year on protecting the vaquita. "Every day that goes by is a lost day," he said.

(Writing by Catherine Bremer, editing by Sandra Maler)

U.S. to let states kill sea lions to save salmon


By Teresa Carson

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Washington and Oregon can start killing sea lions that feed on migrating salmon to help preserve dwindling U.S. Pacific Northwest salmon populations, a federal agency said on Tuesday.

The National Marine Fisheries Service granted permission to the states to target as many as 85 sea lions a year near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife said removal will start after April 1.

Salmon-gobbling pinnipeds have been a problem in West Coast waters for over a decade and at Bonneville Dam for about five years. About 100 California sea lions make the 150-mile (240-km) trip upriver to feast on spawning salmon channeling into the dam's fish ladders, according to Oregon.

Authorities have tried to deter the sea lions by installing physical barriers and driving them off with rubber bullets, firecrackers and other noise-makers with little success.

Only sea lions seen gobbling salmon during between January 1 and May 31 can be killed, according to the order. Before sea lions are killed, they must be trapped and held for 48 hours while fisheries managers try to find them a home at a zoo or aquarium.

There is a provision, however, that allows sea lions to be shot in the water if the animals are not easily captured. The decision raised the ire of one animal protection group.

"This is a waste of money, time and lives and diverts attention from the real problems the fish face," Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The Humane Society of the United States said. The HSUS supports "non-lethal harassment" of sea lions at Bonneville Dam.

The decision comes just in time for the peak of the spring salmon run in April and May. Washington, Oregon and Idaho were required to ask permission because the sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

A male sea lion, which can reach 1,000 pounds (454 kg), consumes about 30 pounds (13.6 kg) or five to seven fish a day. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that the sea lions ate nearly 4,000 salmon last year, which accounted for about 5 percent of the spring salmon run.

About one-third of the salmon eaten are endangered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

State and federal governments have spent billions trying to protect the once abundant fish and fishery managers have also proposed a virtual shutdown of salmon fishing this year in California and Oregon coastal waters.

(Editing by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Eric Walsh)

Investors warm to water as shortages mount

From: Reuters


By Gerard Wynn

LONDON (Reuters) - As liquidity is drained from credit and money markets and pours into oil and gold, another asset class that could offer long-term returns to the discerning investor is water.

Water shortages are on the rise -- stemming from soaring demand, growing populations, rising living standards and changing diets. A lack of supply is compounded by pollution and climate change.

Investors are mobilizing funds to buy the assets that control water and improve supplies, especially in developing countries such as China where urban populations are booming, further tightening supply.

"Many of these cities have tripled in size in the last 10 years so there's just an unaddressed need, there's an enormous opportunity for investment," said Kimberly Tara, chief executive of commodities investor FourWinds Capital Management.

FourWinds will this year start raising global funds initially of up to 3 billion euros ($4.68 billion) to invest in water, Tara said.

Water shortage is already a serious problem in many regions of the world, as underlined in a December report from Zurich-based Sustainable Asset Management (SAM), which manages about 8.5 billion Swiss francs in assets.

These include southern Spain, the Maghreb, the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan, southern India and northern China. In the Americas, the U.S. mid-west, Mexico and the Andes are the worst-hit areas. Eastern Australia is also badly affected.

China is a particularly strong example. It has a fifth of the world's population but just 7 percent of the water.

Most of the length of the country's five main rivers is unsafe for direct human contact, and the country will have to build 1,000 wastewater treatment plants between 2006 and 2010 to meet national pollution targets, Citigroup analysts say.

But not everyone will benefit. While some Chinese cities are now investment hotspots, rural areas are being by-passed, underscoring a trend of under-funding in poorer regions and countries most vulnerable to shortages.

Large equipment suppliers for sourcing water and treating waste will not operate in parts of the developing world, said Merrill Lynch analyst Robert Miller-Bakewell.

"They're pretty selective about where they go. That means a lot of this need will not necessarily be addressed in the near-term," he said.

"The technologies exist. You and I and the World Bank and everyone else can identify the need. The big problem all along is about who's going to pay for it all."

Parts of Africa are especially dry -- both of clean water and cash -- at a time when prices are rising for the steel and concrete raw materials for treatment plants.

A combination of unsafe water and poor sanitation kills about 1.8 million children annually, a Merrill report estimates.


The FourWinds Capital Management investment approach is to go after projects in water treatment and desalination and companies which make meters, pipes and pumps.

Little money stands to be made from owning and charging customers for water itself, because governments subsidize this to ensure the vital asset is most under-priced when in greatest need.

"It's very intuitive -- you (the government) must have the water, and so you'll pay anything to anyone who will get that water to you, but the water itself you have to control. So the price of the water is not the place to invest," said Tara.

"We've been researching water for about two and a half years now, looking at different ways to invest," she added.

A warming world is expected to play havoc with the world's rainfall patterns -- with less rain in heavier bursts -- and is likely to melt mountain glaciers on which hundreds of millions of people in Asia and South America depend.

Some governments fret that the attention paid to fighting the causes of climate change, especially greenhouse gas emissions, has been at the expense of coping with the damage it is already wreaking, or that is around the corner.

A collapse of the Indian summer monsoon from as early as next year is one of the world's most immediate, serious climate risks according to research posted by Britain's University of East Anglia last month.

Drought is perhaps the most immediate of climate change threats, but even without global warming the aspirations of new middle-classes in Asia are a challenge.

An average European uses 150-400 liters of water daily for their personal requirements, the SAM report said. Consumption in the United States is almost twice as high but in China, the figure is only 90 liters per day on average, while in many developing countries it is below the 50 liters a day "critical threshold" set by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Where there are customers who can afford them, new technologies may offer a profitable solution to excessive water extraction, for example by agriculture which is the biggest user by sector, mainly for irrigation.

The production of one kg of beef requires 16,000 liters of water, according to, a Web site run by the Dutch University of Twente and the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. That compares with 1,500 liters for a kg of grain.

Like FourWinds Capital, agriculture firm Monsanto has been swotting up on climate change, said its head of technology strategy and development David Fischhoff.

Along with other agriculture companies such as AGCO Corp, Monsanto's share price has risen recently on the back of spiraling grain prices and resulting higher farmer incomes, partly caused by droughts in Australia and south-east Europe.

Over the past 12 months it has tasked its top 20 experts to digest how the latest climate science will affect the company.

"Drought is our leading example of a problem to solve," Fischhoff said.

The recent discovery of new genes and other scientific advances have aided the first deliberate biotech targeting of drought-tolerance with new crops now in the pipeline, he said.

"The most advanced of these is now a drought-tolerant corn product ... commercializable within several years. We expect this to be the first generation of an ongoing stream."

Monsanto is currently trading at nearly 39 times its forecast earnings for the year to August 2008: almost double the valuation for an emblem of growth in another sector, Google, according to data from Reuters Estimates.

In industry, another major water user, innovation in water-recycling is exciting former dotcom entrepreneurs, in a trend mirroring Silicon Valley's recent enthusiasm for alternative energy to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

British-based entrepreneur Daniel Ishag made money as founder of e-Spotting, which prospered from selling Web search links to advertisers: he now sees an opportunity to clean up on waste water.

The key contribution of his new company Bluewater Bio, he says, is to keep alive and grow bacteria which munch their way through the waste that comes out of factories, homes and landfill sites, saving on chemicals and micro-organisms.

He compared the state of water-processing technology to driving an antique car: "There are better pumps and pipes but the process is the same. It's about continued access to water, and not a lot of money is going into technology to do that."

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

(Reporting by Gerard Wynn; Editing by Sara Ledwith)

Asia's Odd-ball Antelope Faces Migration Crisis

From: Wildlife Conservation Society


The study, which appears in a recent issue of The Open Conservation Biology Journal, tracked saiga with GPS collars in Mongolia and discovered a "migration bottleneck" -- a narrow corridor of habitat that connects two populations. The authors say that the corridor, which spans just three miles wide, is threatened by herders with livestock, along with increased traffic from trucks and motorcycles.

"Like other species of the steppes and deserts, saiga have avoided extinction by being able to migrate long distances as their habitat changed over time," said Dr. Joel Berger, a Wildlife Conservation Society conservationist, and professor at the University of Montana. "Given the uncertainty of how global climate change might affect specific regions, and how and where species might persist, prudent conservation strategies must take into account the movements of highly mobile species like saiga."

According to Berger, the Mongolian government, which participated in the study, has already expressed interest in protecting the bottleneck.

Saiga once occurred in Alaska and Yukon but vanished in North America after the last ice age. Today, they exist only in isolated pockets in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kalmykia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. Their numbers have plummeted by 95 percent, from an estimated one million animals 20 years ago, largely due to poaching for horns used in traditional Chinese medicines and competition with livestock.

Standing just under two feet at the shoulder and weighing about 50 pounds, the most striking feature of the saiga is its large nose, or proboscis. The function of this unusual nose is not clear, but it may serve to warm or filter air during Mongolia's frigid winters and notorious dust storms.

Icy start, but 2008 may be in top 10 warmest years


By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - After the coldest start to a year in more than a decade, spring will bring relief to the northern hemisphere from Thursday.

Bucking the trend of global warming, the start of 2008 saw icy weather around the world from China to Greece. But despite its chilly start, 2008 is expected to end up among the top 10 warmest years since records began in the 1860s.

This winter, ski resorts from the United States to Scandinavia have deep snow. Last year, after a string of mild winters, some feared climate change might put them out of business.

In many countries crops and plants are back on a more "normal" schedule. Cherry trees in Washington are on target to blossom during a March 29-April 13 festival that has sometimes mistimed the peak blooms.

"So far 2008, for the globe, has been quite cold, only just above the 1961-90 average," said Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia which supplies global temperature data to the United Nations.

"This is just January and February, so two coolish months comparable to what happened in 1994 and 1996," he told Reuters.

The northern spring formally begins on March 20 this year.

And an underlying warming trend, blamed by the U.N. Climate Panel on human use of fossil fuels, is likely to reassert itself after the end of a La Nina cooling of the Pacific in the coming months. There were similar conditions in 1998 and 2005, the hottest so far, Jones said.


China suffered its worst snowstorms in a century in January and February. At least 80 people died and the government estimated costs at more than 150 billion yuan ($21 billion), including animal deaths and crop losses.

Sandstorms hit Beijing on Tuesday and residents rushed to hide from the dust mixed with petals from the city's magnolia trees.

During the northern winter, snows also fell in unusual places such as Greece, Iraq and Florida. Experts say climate change will bring more swings as part of a warming that will bring more droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising seas.

U.S. ski resorts reported above average snowfall.

"We're 90 percent sure we will extend the season for at least a couple of weeks toward the end of April," said Jeff Hanle, a spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co. in Colorado. The mountain town has had 400 inches of snow, the normal amount for the whole season, which still has a month to go.

Skiers "have got big smiles on their faces," he said.

"It's been a good season all around," said Tom Horrocks, spokesman of the Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. He said meteorologists said more consistent snows were typical for a La Nina season in the northeast.

But not all places have been chilly -- Jones said western and northern Europe were the warmest parts of the northern hemisphere in the first two months of 2008.

NASA satellite data this week showed the thickest and oldest ice around the North Pole has been disappearing.

Finland had its warmest winter on record. High-speed ferries between Helsinki and Tallinn in Estonia, normally halted for months by winter ice on the Baltic Sea, started earlier than ever in mid-March.

In Norway, many ski resorts have deep snow even though the winter has been the third warmest on record -- scientists say a spinoff of climate change may be more precipitation.

"Turnover is 16 percent over the best season of 2004," said Andreas Roedven, head of Norway's Alpine Ski Area Association.

Electricity prices in the Nordic region halved this month to 27.5 euros ($43.48) per megawatt hour from late 2007 highs because hydropower reservoirs were full and warm temperatures curbed heating demand.

Senior officials from about 190 nations will meet in Bankok from March 31-April 4 to start work on a new long-term treaty to combat climate change to succeed the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol.

(For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

(Additional reporting by Deborah Zabarenko in Washington, Emily Chasan in New York, Jim Bai in Beijing, Tarmo Virki in Helsinki, Jeremy Lovell in London, Wojciech Moskwa in Oslo; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Britain dismisses Japan climate change plan

From: Reuters
Published on


By Chisa Fujioka

MAKUHARI, Japan (Reuters) - Japan wants major emitters to fight climate change by targeting efficiency of industries, a trade ministry official said on Friday, but Britain dismissed it as the wrong approach.

Japan is hosting a three-day meeting of 20 of the world's top greenhouse gas polluters and believes sectoral curbs on major polluting industries such as cement makers and power generators can rein in growing carbon dioxide emissions.

Japan, the world's fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, argues nations should share energy efficiency indicators to figure out how much they can cut climate-warming emissions blamed for rising seas, more intense storms and melting glaciers.

"We think it is an approach which all major emitters will be able to take part in," said Toru Ishida, director-general at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's Bureau for Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment.

"It is not putting a sector cap. It's adding up potential volume from each sector," he said in an interview with Reuters.

Full details of Japan's plan have yet to be announced, but introducing energy-saving technologies on a sectoral basis would be in its favor since many of its industries are already relatively energy efficient.

China, India and other developing nations have less cash to upgrade their industries and say rich nations should help them pay for cleaner technology.

"That's not the overall approach that Britain favors," British Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said in an interview in Tokyo on Friday as environment and energy officials from the G20 countries began talks.

"You can't mess around with this. There needs to be clear international targets and they need to be translated into targets for nation states," he added.


He said governments needed to be held accountable for hitting targets. This would be difficult under a sectoral approach.

"We've got to monitor these things. If you have a sectoral approach it's not quite clear how you'd monitor it," Wicks said. "Would they be mandatory or voluntary? I don't think, to be blunt, that fits the bill really."

Washington says it will accept binding emissions commitments if all other major emitters back individual goals as well. The Bush administration refuses to commit unilaterally to emissions goals for 2020 or 2050 as some other nations are demanding.

But President George W. Bush also wants all major emitters to agree curbs on emissions by the end of 2008, without saying what level of reductions it would accept.

The G20, ranging from top polluters the United States and China to Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa, emit about 80 percent of mankind's greenhouse gases and the group is under pressure to find ways to curb growing emissions.

They are among nearly 190 nations that agreed in Bali in December to launch two years of talks on creating a global pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol from 2013. Kyoto only commits rich nations to curb emissions. Developing nations are excluded.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who addresses the G20 gathering on Saturday, backs a plan for the world to halve greenhouse gases by 2050, he told the Guardian newspaper in an interview published on Friday.

"This is extremely urgent. A 50 percent cut by 2050 has to be a central component of this," Blair said.

"We have to try this year to get that agreed, because the moment you do agree that then you have something for everyone to focus upon. We need a true and proper global deal and that needs to include America and China."

Environmentalists on Friday also called on rich nations to come up with billions in new money to help poor countries fight global warming and not just repackage development aid.

Doubts about Japanese, British and U.S.-backed funds aimed at transferring clean technology to poorer nations or to help them adapt to climate change were "not creating a very good mood going into the G20," Jennifer Morgan of environmental institute E3G told an NGO briefing on the sidelines of the


-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

(Additional reporting by Risa Maeda and Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo, David Fogarty in Makuhari and Peter Graff in London; Writing by David Fogarty; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Brown could be the new green for Ireland

From: Reuters
Published on

Climate change could turn Ireland's green to brown


By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The wearin' of the brown? Forty shades of beige? Climate change could turn Ireland's legendary emerald landscape a dusty tan, with profound effects on its society and culture, a new study released in time for St. Patrick's Day reported.

Entitled "Changing Shades of Green," the report by the Irish American Climate Project twins science gleaned from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the musings of a poet, a fiddler, a fisherman, a farmer and others with deep connections to Ireland.

"The lush greens could turn to brown and the soft rains that people talk about as a blessing -- 'May the rains fall soft upon your field' -- those soft rains could turn harsh," said Kevin Sweeney, an environmental consultant who directs the climate project.

"It really is changing the look and feel of Ireland," Sweeney said in a telephone interview.

The report is available online at

While he acknowledged the impact of climate change on Ireland is less than that elsewhere, notably in Africa, Sweeney emphasized the difference this global change could make on a place that millions of people picture as lush and green.


Among other findings, the report said:

-- Potatoes, the quintessential staple of Irish agriculture, might cease to be a commercial crop under the stress of prolonged summer droughts;

-- Dried grasses in summer and autumn would change hillsides from green to brown;

-- Pastures could be saturated until late spring, making it impossible for livestock to graze; instead, farmers would plant row crops to grow animal feed, a change in the look of Ireland;

-- Reduced summer rains would hurt inland fisheries for salmon and sea trout;

-- Bog bursts, caused when summer heat lifts peat bogs off the bedrock on hillsides and sends the bogs sliding down the slope, would be more frequent.

But the most evident change could be the difference in rainfall.

"The nickname Emerald Isle is a legacy of Ireland's steady rainfall," the report said. "By mid-century, winters could see an increase of more than 12 percent and summers could see a decrease of more than 12 percent. Seasonal storm intensity changes will increase the impact of these changes."

The southeast may have elements of a Mediterranean climate, according to the report.

"If it's pouring rain, I'll say, 'We're in the climate of the music,"' Irish fiddler Martin Hayes said in the report. " ... That softness of the rain, it's there."

Discussing the climate changes possible in Ireland, Hayes said, "I feel frightened and worried. I feel despair. It goes into every aspect of my life."

Ireland is especially good as a focus because some 80 million people around the world can claim Irish heritage, compared to the 5 million or so who actually live in Ireland. Of these, Sweeney said, most associate Ireland with green pastures, rolling hills and rain. And that image could change.

"This is not Africa, where ... the rain may dry up and millions of people might have to move," Sweeney said.

"People can raise their children, they can make a living, they can find sustenance in Ireland, but it will look and feel and be different. And that's the subtlety we want to explain here. We don't want to project that this is catastrophe. What it is, is it's heartbreaking."


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