Sunday, April 6, 2008

To Breed or Not to Breed

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"To Breed or Not to Breed"

Peggy Orenstein goes on a baby quest. Madelyn Cain on the childless revolution. Catherine Wagner shares some motherhood poems. A.M. Homes wrote an adoption memoir.

Journalist Peggy Orenstein has written a memoir called "Waiting for Daisy." She tells Jim Fleming about her ambivalence about having children, her difficulties becoming pregnant, and her adventures with fertility treatments.

Madelyn Cain is the author of "The Childless Revolution." She tells Jim Fleming that many women choose not to have children because they know they are not good enough at nurturing. She thinks this is an admirable, unselfish decision and one that more and more couples will make in the future.

Catherine Wagner is the co-editor, (with Rebecca Wolff) of the anthology "Not for Mothers Only." She talks with Steve Paulson about aspects of mothering and reads several poems from the book.

A.M. Homes was adopted as a newborn. When she was 31, her biological mother made contact, launching the writer on a years-long quest into her identity. She talks about it in her memoir, "The Mistress's Daughter" and in this conversation with Anne Strainchamps.

To the Best of Our Knowledge is an audio magazine of ideas - two hours of smart, entertaining radio for people with curious minds.

Nobel scientist warns on climate change

From: Reuters


By Tom Brown

MIAMI (Reuters) - The Nobel Prize-winning scientist who rang the first alarm bells over the ozone hole issued a warming about climate change on Saturday, saying there could be "almost irreversible consequences" if the Earth warmed 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees F) above what it ought to be.

"Things are changing and there's no doubt that it's as a result of human activities," said Mario Molina, a Mexican who shared a Nobel prize in chemistry in 1995 for groundbreaking work on chlorofluorocarbon gases and their threat to the Earth's ozone layer.

"Long before we run out of oil, we will run out of atmosphere," he said.

Molina told a panel discussion on climate change at an annual Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Miami that the increasing intensity of hurricanes was among the worrisome changes that scientists had linked to a rapid global warming trend over the past 30 years.

Molina did not elaborate on specific effects so far from the Earth's temperature rise, which has been slightly less than 1 degree Celsius (1.8 F) over the last century.

But he said certain "tipping points" would be reached if temperatures continue increasing, including unmanageable changes to the Earth's environment.

Molina later told Reuters there was considerable uncertainty about how much further warming the planet can sustain before it reaches critical levels.

"You keep changing the temperature gradually but then suddenly things change dramatically," he said.

"Trying to keep it (warming) below two degrees (Celsius) means we want to keep the change at most twice or three times what it has changed already. And that's because it's unrealistic to change it by less, because of what we have already done," Molina said.

"The idea to keep the temperature change not above 2.5 (degrees Celsius) is precisely to reduce the possibility of these tipping points happening," he added.

He said warming beyond that would pose "a risk that is not acceptable to society."

(Editing by Michael Christie and Peter Cooney)

Climate change threatens Australia's koala: report

From: Reuters


SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's unique tree-dwelling koalas may become a victim of climate change, new research reported on Saturday shows.

Australian scientists say that eucalyptus leaves, the staple diet of koalas and other animals, could become inedible because of climate change.

"What we're seeing, essentially, is that the staple diet of these animals is being turned to leather," Australian National University science professor Bill Foley was quoted as saying in the Weekend Australian.

"Life is set to become extremely difficult for these animals."

Increased carbon dioxide reduced nitrogen and other nutrients in eucalyptus leaves and boosted tannins, a naturally occurring toxin, greenhouse experiments by James Cook University researcher Ivan Lawler found.

This sharply reduced the levels of protein in the leaves, requiring koalas and other animals to eat more nutritionally-poor eucalyptus leaves to survive.

"The food chain for these animals is very finely balanced, and a small change can have serious consequences," the newspaper quoted Dr Lawler as saying.

Koalas and greater gliders, a large gliding possum, depend entirely on eucalyptus leaves for food. Some other marsupials, including brushtail and ringtail possums and many wallaby species, feed extensively on the leaves.

Many insect species also feed exclusively on the leaves.

(Reporting by Michael Byrnes; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Involve indigenous people in climate policy, says report

From: , Science and Development Network, More from this Affiliate


The ingenuity of indigenous peoples is too often overlooked by policymakers making decisions related to climate change — even though they are among the most vulnerable to its impacts, according to a new report.

The report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), released last month (March), points out that indigenous people usually occupy marginal and remote areas, such as small islands, coastal plains, mountain areas and drylands, where they are exposed to adverse environmental effects.

Although these populations develop coping strategies, the severity of future climate change may exceed this adaptive capacity, say the report's authors.

Furthermore, they are often socially vulnerable —— lacking rights, infrastructure and support, and with fragile livelihoods based only on natural resources.

The areas liable to the greatest changes in climate, and indeed already affected, include the Amazon region, the Caribbean, southern Africa and southern Latin America — all containing large numbers of indigenous people.

Gonzalo Oviedo, co-author of the report and IUCN senior advisor on social policy, told SciDev.Net, "Indigenous peoples' vast experience in adapting to climate variability will not be sufficient — they also need better access to other information and tools."

The report emphasises the need to involve indigenous communities more in research and debate on climate change. "In the Arctic, scientists and indigenous people work together. It opens doors to knowledge not accessible through Western scientific methods," says co-author Sarah Gotheil, programme officer of IUCN's Global Marine Programme.

Indigenous peoples' perspective and knowledge should be considered when making policies on adapting to climate change, the report recommends.

Their adaptation practices include rainwater harvesting, crop and livelihood diversification, and hunting and gathering timed with variations in animal migration and fruiting periods.

The challenge, says the report, is to find how best to combine traditional and scientific knowledge for incorporation into decision making.

The report advises that supporting indigenous peoples in their adaptation methods will help preserve the world's culturally and biologically most diverse areas.

"Their wise practices are also important for the younger generations," adds co-author Agni Boedhihartono, a landscape and community engagement officer for IUCN.

Link to full IUCN report [1.49MB]

Drought grows slightly in E. Australian farmlands

From: Reuters


SYDNEY (Reuters) - A key part of Australia's eastern farmlands slipped further into drought in March but record crops were still expected if good rains fell soon, New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said on Sunday.

New South Wales, one of Australia's biggest agricultural states, was hit hardest by the country's worst drought in 100 years before rain began falling early this year.

The rain reduced the area of the state in drought to around 40 percent from 99 percent during the worst of the drought in 2002.

However, in the latest month the drought-affected area of the state rose by around 2 percentage points to 42.9 percent, Macdonald said.

Winter crop prospects were still good if farmers received autumn rain, he said.

"They are anxiously waiting for quite good rainfall across the state so they can get their winter crops in," Macdonald said of farmers.

"We anticipate there'll be a record amount of cropping put into the ground if we can get some decent autumn rain," he said on ABC radio.

Australia, one of the largest farm goods exporters in the world, largely to Asia, will begin to plant its winter wheat crop in around three week's time.

Normally the second-largest wheat exporter in the world, Australian wheat crops have been decimated in three of the last six years because of drought. This recently sent world wheat prices soaring to record highs.

Recent forecasts put Australia's 2008/09 wheat crop at between 26 million tonnes and a record-breaking 27 million tonnes. All forecasts are based on good rain falling soon.

(Reporting by Michael Byrnes, editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Iceland: life on global warming's front line

From: Reuters


By Adam Cox and Kristin Arna Bragadottir

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - If any country can claim to be pitched on the global warming front line, it may be the North Atlantic island nation of Iceland.

On a purely physical level, this land of icecaps and volcanoes and home to 300,000 people is undergoing a rapid transformation as its glaciers melt and weather patterns change dramatically.

But global warming is also having a profound effect on Iceland economically -- and in many ways the effects have actually been beneficial.

Warmer weather has been a boon to Iceland's hydroelectric industry, which is producing more energy than before as melting glaciers feed its rivers.

Climate change, stoked by human use of fossil fuels, has also focused attention on Iceland's energy innovations and created demand for its ideas and expertise in fields such as geothermal energy and fuel technology.

Scientists from Africa to the Americas are exploring what Icelandic universities and energy researchers are up to. And foreign companies are teaming up with the small island's firms.

Two-thirds of electricity in Iceland is already derived from renewable sources -- its plentiful rivers and waterfalls and the geothermal heat that warms 90 percent of Iceland's houses.

Some observers say forward-thinking comes naturally on an island where climate change can already be seen in thawing ice and balmier winters.

"People are already now planning for a future that will be different from the past," said Tomas Johannesson, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

"We are in an unusual situation that many of the changes that are happening are maybe more beneficial than for the worse," he added.

The increase in waterflow in the island's rivers, because of melting glaciers, is one example.

"If you compare the hydrological data about how much energy is in the water for the last 60 years, and then the last 20 years, you see that there is an increase," said Thorstein Hilmarsson of the national power company Landsvirkjun.

This extra energy is needed in an economy driven partly by power-intensive industries such as aluminum smelting.

But Icelanders know that climate change is not a simple economic equation.

"If something serious happens to other nations, this can easily have an effect here. So people are not exactly welcoming these changes," Johannesson said.


Carol van Voorst, U.S. ambassador to Iceland, has made the promotion of energy ventures in Iceland part of her mission.

"We're on the ground, we know the players, and we can be helpful in making the links and connections," she said.

"You quickly notice how creatively Iceland is using its natural resources," she said.

Among the initiatives that have caught her attention are a deep-drilling project to harness underground energy, technology to convert carbon dioxide into fuel and hydrogen-powered rental cars, which went into use in Reykjavik last year.

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project, a multi-national venture including Landsvirkjun, will start drilling a hole this year between 4 and 5 km (2.5 and 3 miles) deep to learn about "supercritical hydrous fluid" at temperatures of between 400 and 600 degrees Celsius (750 and 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit).

It might take decades to learn how to harness the energy, but it could radically change the way power is generated.

Iceland is also pushing hard to become the first nation to break free from the constraints of fossil fuel -- this year, the first hydrogen-equipped commercial vessel was due to start sailing around Reykjavik.

Iceland hopes to convert its entire transport system to hydrogen by 2050.


The flip side of this innovation, however, is concern.

Last October, Nordic nations, including Iceland, sounded the alarm about a quickening melt of Arctic ice and said the thaw might soon prove irreversible because of global warming.

The U.N. Climate Panel says temperatures are rising more rapidly in the Arctic because darker water and land soak up more heat than reflective ice and snow.

Nonetheless, even with higher temperatures, it could take centuries for Iceland's glaciers to melt, the national energy company says.

The Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland is Europe's largest and is big enough to cover all of Iceland with 50 meters (160 ft) of water.

There are more immediate signs of climate change, though, and these are worrying Iceland's residents.

This winter, Reykjavik experienced double-digit swings in temperature, as the normally sub-zero conditions suddenly turned balmy. The capital was flooded.

"I don't think it's even a question," said Asta Gisladottir, asked whether the freak weather was caused by global warming.

"We're so close to the North Pole," the 36-year-old hotel worker said. "It's just in our backyard."

Gisladottir recalled winters during her childhood in the village of Siglufjordur, on the island's north, as very different. Then there was snow from November to April.

Now, it is mostly rain.

Geophysicist Johannesson, who has studied climate change since the early 1990s, said the evidence was not just anecdotal.

"What we see here is an overall warming from a rather cold 19th century," he said. "As a general rule, this is sufficient for us to have many significant changes in the environment."

(Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile)


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