Friday, May 2, 2008

Global warming could starve oceans of oxygen: study

Global warming could starve oceans of oxygen: study


OSLO (Reuters) - Global warming could gradually starve parts of the tropical oceans of oxygen, damaging fisheries and coastal economies, a study showed on Thursday.

Areas of the eastern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with low amounts of dissolved oxygen have expanded in the past 50 years, apparently in line with rising temperatures, according to the scientists based in Germany and the United States.

And models of global warming indicate the trend will continue because oxygen in the air mixes less readily with warmer water. Large fish such as tuna or swordfish avoid, or are unable to survive, in regions starved of oxygen.

"Reduced oxygen levels may have dramatic consequences for ecosystems and coastal economies," according to the scientists writing in the journal Science.

The north of the Indian Ocean, along with the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, is also oxygen-low but the available data showed no substantial change in the size of the oxygen-minimum zone in recent decades.

Lothar Stramma, lead author at IFM-GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, said there were signs the oxygen-low bands between 300 and 700 meters depths were getting wider and moving into shallower coastal waters.

"The expansion of the oxygen-minimum zones is reaching more to the continental shelf areas," he told Reuters. "It's not just the open ocean." That could disrupt ever more fisheries.

Problems of lower oxygen supply add to woes for the oceans led by over-fishing as the world struggles to feed an expanding population. A U.N. conference in 2002 set a goal of trying to reverse declines in fish stocks by 2015.

The scientists said levels of dissolved oxygen in the oceans had varied widely in the past and more study was needed. "We are far from knowing exactly what will happen," Stramma said.

In the most extreme case, at the end of the Permian period about 250 million years ago, there were mass extinctions on land and at sea linked to high levels of carbon dioxide and extremely low oxygen levels in the waters.

The U.N. Climate Panel said last year that global warming, stoked by human use of fossil fuels, would push up temperatures and bring more droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels. More and more species would be at risk of extinction.

Thursday's study showed that a swathe of the eastern Pacific from Chile to the United States and a smaller part of the eastern Atlantic, centered off Angola, were low in oxygen.

Stramma said the oxygen-poor regions were away from major ocean currents that help absorb oxygen from the air. And warmer water is less dense and so floats more easily -- that makes it less prone to mix with the deeper levels of the oceans.

Need to deal with water needs crucial

The waterline is receding at Camanche Reservoir in the Si...

(05-01) 18:48 PDT -- Two parched years - punctuated by the driest spring in at least 150 years - could force districts across California to ration water this summer as policymakers and scientists grow increasingly concerned that the state is on the verge of a long-term drought.

State water officials reported Thursday that the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the source of a huge portion of California's water supply, was only 67 percent of normal, due in part to historically low rainfall in March and April.

With many reservoirs at well-below-average levels from the previous winter and a federal ruling limiting water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the new data added a dimension to a crisis already complicated by crumbling infrastructure, surging population and environmental concerns.

"We're in a dry spell if not a drought," said California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman. "We're in the second year, and if we're looking at a third year, we're talking about a serious problem."

Chrisman stopped short of saying the state would issue mandatory water rationing, which appears possible only if the governor declares a state of emergency. Rather, the burden will fall on local water agencies. Many, such as San Francisco and Marin County, have asked residents and businesses over the past year to cut water usage voluntarily by 10 to 20 percent.

Others have taken more drastic steps.

In Southern California, the water district serving about 330,000 people in Orange County enacted water rationing last year, due in part to a ruling by U.S. Judge Oliver Wanger reducing water pumped from the delta by about a third to protect an endangered fish.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District announced in April that it was considering water rationing, price increases and other measures in response to critically low reservoirs. The district, which serves 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, will vote on the measures this month.

"If you catch a third (dry) year, then you're looking at a supply that's so low you can't manage it well anymore," said Charles Hardy, spokesman for the district. "That's when its starts to hurt businesses and people across the board."

No industry faces bigger changes than agriculture, which uses about 80 percent of California's available water; the remainder goes to urban areas. Some experts say they believe the balance could shift toward urban areas.

Already, some farmers are switching to crops requiring less water and letting fields go fallow. One water agency official recently talked to a Southern California avocado grower who cut his trees back to stumps and won't begin growing again until water supplies recover.

"We have a lot of water, but we also use a lot of water," said Jeffrey Mount, director for watershed sciences at UC Davis. "From an economic perspective, it makes sense moving water from agriculture to urban uses."

In fact, some farmers are already selling their water to urban districts. But there is no easy system for transporting that water, and the infrastructure required would be extremely costly.

Californians have suffered through droughts before.

A deep, two-year drought in the late 1970s drew discussions about dragging glaciers down from Alaska or filling huge plastic bladders at river sources and dragging them by tugboat to users, Hardy said. Consumers endured rationing during a longer drought in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

After those dry periods, water conservation initiatives kicked into high gear. Low-flow toilets and showerheads became the norm, and homeowners started filling their yards with drought-resistant plants. Today, that might not be enough in a state with a population expected to reach nearly 50 million by 2030.

In addition to possible restrictions on watering lawns and washing cars, water prices could spike - at least for those who use too much.

The district serving 330,000 customers in Orange County has developed a type of water profile based on household size, yard size and average temperature in the area. Using that data, water managers have come up with base water allocations; above that level, water bills jump.

"If you really want to use more water there, you're going to pay for it - and (the district) uses the extra funds to finance conservation investments," said Ellen Hanak, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco. "There's a lot of room for innovating in that area - some places are doing it, but there's hardly any penalty for the extra water."

It is unclear whether this dry period is a full-blown drought. Much like economic recessions, droughts can be diagnosed only in retrospect.

However, it is certain that if the dry conditions that began with the low 2006-2007 snowpack levels continue, they could have a cascading effect. The dryness of 2006-2007 contributed to this year's poor water supply totals, said Elissa Lynn, chief meteorologist with the California Department of Water Resources.

"We're losing a lot of what we did have as snow melted into the ground," Lynn said. "It's either in subsurface, waiting to come down, or it's going into soil moisture because we had a dry fall."

There is also a small chance that dry windy conditions blew snow straight from the mountains into vapor, she said.

Not all Bay Area agencies face the same challenges, because they get water from various sources: San Francisco and the Peninsula from Hetch Hetchy, East Bay Municipal Water District from the Mokelumne River watershed and the Santa Clara Valley Water District from a combination of reservoirs and the delta. Some local water managers say their supplies look good. Marin County, for instance, said its reservoirs are at more than 100 percent of capacity.

Nevertheless, stricter water controls could be a continuing part of California's future. So might large-scale projects that aim to use water in new and better ways.

"We're facing some pretty grim circumstances that call for some bold action - recycling water, desalinating water," said Tim Quinn executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. "Above and beyond that, we have to invest in the sustainability of this system that our grandfathers constructed in the middle of the last century. It was developed with the convenience of human beings in mind, not aquatic beings."

Tips for conserving water

Even if water rationing is not mandated, there are a number of things you can do to help. Here are some:

Lawns: Water between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Cars: Use a bucket and a hose with shutoff nozzle to wash cars or go to a car wash that recycles and reuses its water.

Yards: Don't water more than three days a week or on consecutive days.

Laundry: Put full loads into front-loading machines.

Leaks: Find and repair, particularly in toilets.

Driveways: Use a broom, not a hose, to clean them.

Pools: Cover pools and hot tubs when not in use.

E-mail Kelly Zito at

All salmon fishing banned on West Coast

Salmon fishing was banned along the West Coast for the first time in 160 years Thursday, a decision that is expected to have a devastating economic impact on fishermen, dozens of businesses, tourism and boating.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez immediately declared a commercial fishery disaster, opening the door for Congress to appropriate money for anyone who will be economically harmed.

The closure of commercial and recreational fishing for chinook salmon in the ocean off California and most of Oregon was announced by the National Marine Fishery Service.

It followed the recommendation last month of the Pacific Fishery Management Council after the catastrophic disappearance of California's fabled fall run of the pink fish popularly known as king salmon.

It is the first total closure since commercial fishing started in the Bay Area in 1848.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency last month and sent a letter to President Bush asking for his help in obtaining federal disaster assistance. Schwarzenegger plans to appropriate about $5.3 million for coastal salmon and steelhead fishery restoration projects.

The disaster declaration allows state officials to work with Congress on obtaining appropriations for businesses and fishermen and women, some of whom will lose as much as 80 percent of their annual income.

Although salmon spawning has been in decline all up and down the coast, the biggest problem is in the Sacramento River and its tributaries. So few salmon returned last fall that the fishery council was required under its management plan to halt fishing throughout the salmon habitat, which is all along the California and Oregon coasts.

The commercial salmon season off California and Oregon typically runs from May 1 to Oct. 31. The recreational season was to have begun April 5.

E-mail Peter Fimrite at

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

White House blocked EPA studies, GAO reports

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairm...

(04-30) 04:00 PDT Washington - --

A congressional watchdog agency has found that White House officials repeatedly intervened in the government's scientific process for assessing the health risks of toxic chemicals, prompting Sen. Barbara Boxer to threaten giving Congress control of the program.

The Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday that the White House's budget office, the Pentagon and other agencies had delayed or blocked efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to list chemicals as carcinogens by requesting more research or more time to review the risks.

Boxer, D-Calif., who is chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and requested the report, called the findings scandalous. If EPA does not speed up its assessments of toxic chemicals, she warned that Congress might step in and start banning substances that threaten the public health.

"If we don't see that happen, colleagues of mine are going to take matters into their own hands," Boxer said.

A top EPA official, who was grilled at a hearing before Boxer's committee Tuesday, responded that it was helpful to have more input from the White House and other agencies.

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's EPA's decision," said James Gulliford, EPA's assistant administrator for pesticides, prevention and toxic substances.

GAO officials also faulted the administration for setting new rules that keep secret any involvement by the White House or a federal agency in a decision about the risks of a chemical.

"In the risk assessment program, you don't want anyone but the scientists involved," John Stephenson, GAO's chief investigator for environmental programs, told lawmakers.

The issue involves major changes the administration has made to an EPA program called "IRIS" - the Integrated Risk Information System - which allows the agency to determine safe levels of exposure to chemicals to protect the public health. The program has been used to set limits on arsenic in drinking water and benzene in the air, and foreign nations and states like California often use the data for their regulations.

Influencing risk assessment

Since President Bush took office in 2001, the White House has sought to take more control of a process that has long been led by EPA scientists, the report found. The Office of Management and Budget, the Defense Department, the Energy Department and even NASA have taken steps to influence risk assessments that could affect those agencies or hurt U.S. industries, the report said.

For example, the EPA started a risk assessment of naphthalene, a chemical used in jet fuel, in 2002, and agency scientists have been moving toward listing it as a likely human carcinogen. But many military sites are contaminated with naphthalene, which could lead to major cleanup costs for the Pentagon. So, White House budget officials slowed the process, repeatedly requesting more analysis. Six years later, the risk assessment is back at the drafting stage.

"The series of delays has limited EPA's ability to conduct its mission," the GAO report concluded.

The study also found irregularities in the agency's risk assessment of formaldehyde, a colorless gas used in plywood and many other household products, which the World Health Organization has listed as a known human carcinogen but EPA classifies only as a probable carcinogen.

In 2004, the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation decided to bypass the risk analysis of its own scientists and use data by an industry-funded group when it issued new rules for formaldehyde - even though EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment identified a number of problems with the group's data. A federal appellate court struck down the rules last year.

"It was fairly unprecedented," testified Lynn Goldman, who was assistant EPA administrator for prevention, pesticides and toxic substances during the Clinton administration and is now an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Only 4 approved

Stephenson, the GAO investigator, told lawmakers the risk assessments had slowed to a crawl because of the prolonged inter-agency review. Out of 32 draft risk assessments prepared by the EPA over the last two years, only four were approved.

The program, Stephenson said, "is at serious risk of becoming obsolete."

Public health advocates warned that the results are years-long delays in regulating harmful chemicals that scientists have linked to rising cancer rates in some groups.

Dr. Linda Giudice, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCSF, pointed to the growing evidence that a child exposed to chemicals in the womb is not only at higher risk of birth defects and learning disabilities, but also at risk of lower fertility, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease as an adult.

Giudice noted that scientists are just now learning of the effects of some chemicals, such as bisphenol A, a compound found in baby bottles and other products. Manufacturers of BPA insist it is safe, but it's been linked to breast and prostate cancer, early puberty in females and behavior disorders in laboratory animals.

"There are many chemicals where we have no scientific data," Giudice said. "The absence of scientific data does not mean the chemical is safe."

Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to ban children's products with BPA, and California lawmakers are considering a similar bill. San Francisco was the first jurisdiction in the world to outlaw BPA in kids' products, but it repealed the ban in 2007 after a court fight with plastics manufacturers.

Boxer said the United States should consider shifting to the European Union's new system, known as REACH, which requires all manufacturers seeking to sell their chemicals in Europe to register and prove the chemical will not hurt human health or the environment. She said the program "puts the burden on the chemical industry, where it should be, to show that their chemicals are safe."

E-mail Zachary Coile at

Mitigating Climate Change: Capitalist Sham

From: , Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate


Those that have been instrumental in building the institutional edifice to mitigate climate change and facilitate greenhouse gas emissions reductions come in for a severe and thorough verbal lashing in Down to Earth, a publication put out by New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment.

As climate change, environmental degradation and economic development have gained currency the resulting international processes and organizational structures have been hijacked by the international political, media and corporate jet set, CSE claims. Worse, the resulting measures taken to date are not only ineffectual but serve only to further enrich those that are primarily responsible for these problems in the first place, i.e. the captains of multinational business, industry, political leaders and the media.

The Politics of Green

“The Centre for Science and Environment, in its 1999 publication on global environmental governance, Green Politics, clearly showed all global environmental conventions were designed to secure northern business in the future and had little to do with environment or sustainability,” argues Sunita Narain, the CSE’s director. “This has sharpened; industries and developed nations are looking at a new business opportunity in the time of climate change. The results are showing.

“Without any noteworthy emissions cut, the rush for biofuel to manage emissions has already created a food crisis. All technofixes—biofuel, GM crop or nuclear power—will create the next generation of crisis, because they ignore the fundamental problems of capitalism as a system that ignores justice and promotes inequity.”

Though you may disagree, wholly or in part, the points raised and claims leveled are fundamental, and serious enough to warrant a long, honest and thorough examination of the effects of mechanisms designed to address these issues and the underlying motivations and objectives of those promoting them, as well as our own individual roles and responsibility for the results.

Won’t Get Fooled Again?

The CSE aims some very sharp arrows straight into the heart of capitalism and global leaders and institutions’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change”¦and in a fluid and engaging, if caustic, style.

“In recent months, Delhi has seen unprecedented growth in star foreign visitors flying in by night to advise us on the impending dangers of climate change and hand out ”˜how to’ manuals on reducing the threat,” Nurita wrote in a list-serve email post.

“These visitors have Indian friends who have just heard of this strange rogue phenomenon and find it damn cute to organize ”˜climate balls’ and ”˜climate receptions’. The star guests are invariably former heads of states historically identified as the greatest climate criminals. The hosts are the business class, national or global, whose profit maximizing activities contribute to this crisis in nature.

“Is it politically correct to smell a rat? Isn’t it nice the criminals have reformed? Ideally, the best result can be obtained if the worst offenders, super-developed states and the global industrial class participate. But the realpolitik is that the climate agenda has been hijacked by the business class. Global warming must be managed by reproducing, not questioning the very political economy that created it.”

President Uses High Gas Prices to Bushwhack Arctic Refuge

From: , Big Green Purse, More from this Affiliate


Gas prices are sending everyone into a state of hysteria. But the fact that the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing should come as no surprise to anyone: the planet has a limited amount of petroleum, and people have been using it up as fast as it gets sucked out of the ground, processed in a refinery, and trucked to the nearest pump. That prices are finally approaching $4.00 a gallon is actually a welcome development from an environmental point of view. Finally, drivers are taking the actions they should have been taking ever since the first gas crisis occurred in the U.S. 35 years ago: They're car pooling, walking and biking, using mass transit and finding other ways to drive less.

Into this scenario, Pres. Bush is advocating, rather than additional conservation -- which generates immediate relief in the pocketbook as well as at the pump -- drilling for more oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Ironically, the migration season for caribou, the animals that use the Refuge for birthing the calves that keep the herd alive, begins this month. Pres. Bush couldn't care less. In fact, the oil president is using high gas prices as an excuse to exploit the Refuge for what would amount to 4 million gallons of gasoline a day - the same amount the U.S. could save every day if drivers simply inflated their vehicle tires to the proper pounds per square inch. It would take ten years to get the equivalent barrels of oil out of the Arctic refuge.

Alaska Wilderness League is mounting a national campaign to protect the Arctic Refuge from Pres. Bush's oil plan. You can support their work financially as well as by urging your member of Congress to keep oil rigs out of the Arctic.

Big Green Purse is encouraging consumers to reduce gas consumption through ten steps that will also save $20-$50 every month on gasoline. The key BGP message: you can meet your material needs without driving your budget -- or the planet -- into the ground.

Consumers will try to complain about price gouging by the oil companies. They'll probably think they should boycott the oil companies for a day. It makes more sense to figure out ways to meet transportation needs without using a car.

Want to do something about the high price of gas? Forget oil drilling in the Arctic.

Drive less.

Asian vultures disappearing faster than dodo

From: Reuters


By Michael Kahn

LONDON (Reuters) - Wild Asian vultures could become extinct in 10 years unless officials stop the use of a livestock drug that has caused the birds to decline faster than the dodo, British and Indian scientists said on Wednesday.

A new study shows the population of oriental white-backed vultures has plunged 99.9 percent since 1992 while the numbers of two species, the long-billed and slender-billed vultures, together have fallen by nearly 97 percent.

A wider ban of the veterinary drug diclofenac and more captive breeding centers are the only way to save the birds found mainly in India, the researchers said in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society.

India banned manufacture of the veterinary form of the anti-inflammatory in 2006, but a version formulated for humans is still used to treat livestock, the researchers said. When the vultures feed on carcasses they ingest the drug, which shuts down their kidneys and kills them within days.

"The ban on diclofenac production for veterinary use was an excellent first step," Vibhu Prakash, a researcher at the Bombay Natural History Society and colleagues wrote. However, this action is insufficient on its own to save these species."

The birds are critical to the ecosystem and for human health in India because they are the primary means of getting rid of animal carcasses in the nation of some 1.12 billion people, added Andrew Cunningham, who worked on the study.

Their demise is has led to a sharp increase in dead animals around villages and towns, which has boosted the numbers of disease-carrying rats and rabid stray dogs, he said.

"This is a direct consequence of the decline of the vultures," Cunningham, a veterinarian at the Zoological Society of London, said in a telephone interview.

The researchers counted vultures in northern and central India between March and June last year. They surveyed the birds from vehicles along more than 160 sections of road totaling 18,900 kilometers.

The study followed four previous counts and was the first since 2003. The researchers warned that all three species could dwindle down to a few hundred birds or less to the verge of extinction in fewer than 10 years.

The researchers believe the number of oriental white-backed vultures in India could now be as low as 11,000 from tens of millions in the 1980s. Populations of the long-billed vultures have likely dropped to 45,000 while only an estimated 1,000 of the slender-billed species remain, they said.

The dodo was hunted to extinction barely 100 years after it was discovered in the 16th century.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Maggie Fox and Dominic Evans)

Climate change hitting Arctic faster, harder

From: WWF


Climate change is having a greater and faster impact on the Arctic than previously thought, according to a new study by the global conservation organization WWF.
The new report, called Arctic Climate Impact Science — An Update Since ACIA, represents the most wide-ranging reviews of arctic climate impact science since the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) was published in 2005.

The new study found that change was occurring in all arctic systems, impacting on the atmosphere and oceans, sea ice and ice sheets, snow and permafrost, as well as species and populations, food webs, ecosystems and human societies.

Melting of arctic sea ice and the Greenland Ice Sheet was found to be severely accelerated, now even prompting the expert scientists to discuss whether both may be close to their “tipping point” (the point where, because of climate change, natural systems may experience sudden, rapid and possibly irreversible change).

“The magnitude of the physical and ecological changes in the Arctic creates an unprecedented challenge for governments, the corporate sector, community leaders and conservationists to create the conditions under which arctic natural systems have the best chance to adapt,” said Dr Martin Sommerkorn, one of the report’s authors and Senior Climate Change Adviser at WWF International’s Arctic Programme.
“The debate can no longer focus only on creating protected areas and allowing arctic ecosystems to find their balance.”

“At the same time, we need to simultaneously reduce the vulnerability of social and environmental systems of the Arctic by reducing threats from human activity and building ecosystem resilience — the ability of ecosystems to remain stable when under a lot of pressure.”

According to last year’s reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the entire Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt, sea levels would rise 7.3 metres, making its status a global concern. While it is currently impossible to accurately predict how much of the ice sheet will be melting, and over which time, the new report shows there has been a far greater loss of ice mass in the past few years, much more than had been predicted by scientific models.

Likewise, the loss of summer arctic sea ice has increased dramatically, with record lows reached in 2005 and — way more dramatic — in 2007. In September 2007, the sea ice shrank to 39 per cent below its 1979-2000 mean, the lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979 and also the lowest for the entire 20th century based on monitoring from ships and aircraft.

“When you look in detail at the science behind the recent arctic changes it becomes painfully clear how our understanding of climate impacts lags behind the changes that we are already seeing in the Arctic,” said Sommerkorn. “This is extremely dangerous, as some of these arctic changes have the potential to substantially warm the Earth beyond what models currently forecast. That is because climate models don’t currently adequately incorporate important underlying drivers of the arctic changes we are already observing, such as the interaction between sea ice thickness and water temperature.”

The Arctic is not only one of the places on Earth most vulnerable to climate change, but also a place where vulnerability is of urgent global relevance. WWF calls for a two-pronged strategy to minimize the impacts of climate change.

“We need to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases to levels that will avoid the continued warming of the Arctic and the anticipated resulting disruption of the global climate system,” said Sommerkorn.


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