Saturday, June 21, 2008

Changing climate will lead to more extreme weather: Report

From: NOAA


The U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research today released a scientific assessment that provides the first comprehensive analysis of observed and projected changes in weather and climate extremes in North America and U.S. territories. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change previously evaluated extreme weather and climate events on a global basis in this same context. However, there has not been a specific assessment across North America prior to this report.

Among the major findings reported in this assessment are that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace as humans continue to increase the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The report is based on scientific evidence that a warming world will be accompanied by changes in the intensity, duration, frequency, and geographic extent of weather and climate extremes.

"This report addresses one of the most frequently asked questions about global warming: what will happen to weather and climate extremes? This synthesis and assessment product examines this question across North America and concludes that we are now witnessing and will increasingly experience more extreme weather and climate events," said report co-chair Tom Karl, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

"We will continue to see some of the biggest impacts of global warming coming from changes in weather and climate extremes,” said report co-chair Gerry Meehl, Ph.D., of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "This report focuses for the first time on changes of extremes specifically over North America."

The full CCSP 3.3 report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, and a summary FAQ brochure are available online.

Global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases, according to the report. Many types of extreme weather and climate event changes have been observed during this time period and continued changes are projected for this century. Specific future projections include:

  • Abnormally hot days and nights, along with heat waves, are very likely to become more common. Cold nights are very likely to become less common.
  • Sea ice extent is expected to continue to decrease and may even disappear in the Arctic Ocean in summer in coming decades.
  • Precipitation, on average, is likely to be less frequent but more intense.
  • Droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in some regions.
  • Hurricanes will likely have increased precipitation and wind.
  • The strongest cold-season storms in the Atlantic and Pacific are likely to produce stronger winds and higher extreme wave heights.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.

NOAA plays a key role in the Climate Change Science Program, which is responsible for coordinating and integrating climate research, observations, decision support, and communications of 13 federal departments and agencies.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research investigates climate, weather, and other topics related to the atmosphere. It is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and managed by a nonprofit consortium of universities, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Floodwaters surge over Midwest levees

(CNN) -- Water spilled over two levees on the Mississippi River on Wednesday, surging into west-central Illinois, covering fertile farmland and pushing residents from their homes, officials said.

Pigs seek refuge from the floods on top of a farm building near Oakville, Illinois, on Wednesday.

Pigs seek refuge from the floods on top of a farm building near Oakville, Illinois, on Wednesday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Mississippi Valley said water flowed over the top of one levee, but local officials had a different account, reporting that the levee -- near Meyer, Illinois -- breached in two places about 6:20 a.m., pouring water into Hancock and Adams counties.

"It's kind of a sad day," Sheriff John Jefferson of Hancock County said. "People put in a lot of manpower [to build up the levees], and all was lost."

The floodwaters will cover thousands of acres of farmland from Warsaw to Quincy, about a 25-mile stretch of the river.

"There's a lot of wheat fields down here just about ready to be harvested, and they're going to lose all that," Jefferson said. "The corn crop, the bean crop that's up, is all going to be lost. And the real work's going to come after the flood recedes. It'll take years to get this ground back into shape to farm it."

All residents in the area had been evacuated, Jefferson said. Video Watch why Illinois breach helps Iowa »

Another levee in Adams County was breached about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, said David Rudduck, spokesman for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

On Wednesday, the White House asked Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency aid for the flooded region, The Associated Press reported.

The levees are about 45 miles south of another levee that was breached Tuesday morning near the small village of Gulfport, Illinois, prompting about 400 people to leave their homes in Henderson County.

The water flooded acres, shut down a train station and ruined crops.

Farmer Jim Olsen said his crop of beans and corn was ruined.

"It is not going to be a farm this year," he said, staring at his damaged land. "It is a total loss."

Near Oakville, Illinois, floodwaters covered about 21 square miles of corn and soybean fields, including Richard Siegle's farm.

All that was visible of the house Siegle built in 1972 was the roof and an American flag on a tall pole waving in the submerged front yard. On a nearby farm building, pigs clustered on the roof, eating whatever they could find that floated down the river. Video Watch pigs stranded on roof »

"Who ever thought that we'd see water this deep here?" Siegle asked. "It's unreal.

"You don't know where to start," Siegle said. "It just depends on what Mother Nature does, when the water goes out, whether they get the levee repaired. There's not any assurance that we'll get the levee repaired."

Authorities on Tuesday closed the Great River Bridge connecting Illinois to Iowa, according to the sheriff's office of Henderson County.

Across the Mississippi in Burlington, Iowa, water levels have "dropped a bit," but they may rise again, according to David Miller, administrator for the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.

"The good news is, the floodwater is receding in much of the state," Miller said. "The bad news is, we're still in a flood fight."

He said officials are also monitoring flooding at Keokuk, a riverside town, where water levels are expected to crest by Thursday.

Levees elsewhere along the Mississippi were being topped with sandbags as the river, fed by its flooded tributaries, continued to rise.

In Clarksville, Missouri, five blocks were under water, but National Guard members, inmates and students were sandbagging to save other parts of the historic artists' town, AP reported.

"We fix one thing, and it breaks," Mayor Jo Anne Smiley told AP. "Sewers are plugged up. We have leaks in walls and people who need things. We're boating in food to people."

President Bush plans to visit Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday to see the flood-damaged regions, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto

Japan 24-hour shops hit by emission limits

From: Reuters


TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's 24-hour convenience stores, already struggling with lagging sales and growth, may soon face yet another threat -- moves to limit business hours and close the stores late at night.

The prefecture of Saitama, which borders Tokyo, may follow in the footsteps of the western city of Kyoto and urge convenience stores to close during late night hours in an effort to limit carbon dioxide emissions, Japanese media reported.

Kyoto, a former capital, wants to persuade convenience and other 24-hour stores to close late at night so as to improve evening views of the city and cut down on energy use. The Nikkei business daily said closures could last from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The move is strongly opposed by the industry, which fears a withering impact on an already troubled sector also grappling with the specter of a higher tobacco tax, which could hit overall sales.

"Even if we only operate the stores for 16 hours, we can't stop the refrigerators," said Toshiro Yamaguchi, the president of Seven-Eleven Japan Co, which is owned by Seven & I Holdings Co Ltd, at a news conference in Saitama on Tuesday.

He said such cuts in operating hours would reduce each store's profit by 20 percent. "If this happens, our current business model will lose its foundation."

As of April, Japan had 41,360 convenience stores, according to the Japan Franchise Association.

Some city areas are so saturated that competing stores may be located within a block of each other, while others are located in rural areas so sparsely populated that the stores can be a lonely outpost of light amid the rice fields after dark.

Analysts said that while it is difficult to estimate the potential impact of the move without a concrete plan, their overall impression was that it was likely to be negative.

"This could cut profits and lead to less efficient operations and the increased loss of opportunities," said Masafumi Shoda, an analyst at Nomura Securities.

"But it depends on the store -- urban stores do better than others. There are some in the countryside that are inefficient."

Others said the impact would depend on what hours stores were forced to close.

"Closing convenience stores at 11 p.m. might be a bit too early -- they should wait until after the last commuter train runs, say until around 1 a.m. or so," said Koichi Ogawa, chief portfolio manager at Daiwa SB Investments, adding that many businessmen who return home at that hour drop by to pick up a snack after an evening of drinking.

"But how many people really shop in the middle of the night? Staying open 24 hours means paying to employ part-time workers, which raises overall costs for the sector quite a lot."

Both said that if governments were sincere about reducing carbon emissions there were much more efficient methods, such as cutting back on the huge number of automatic vending machines.

Seven & I Holdings posted its first drop in full-year operating profit in six years this April but forecast a recovery this year as it closes unprofitable stores.

Shares of Lawson Inc were down 0.6 percent on Wednesday, while Seven & I rose 0.3 percent. FamilyMart Co Ltd fell 1.4 percent.

The global food crisis deepens

From: Tehran Times


The list of countries on the brink of disaster because of the global food crisis is growing by the week. Terrorism and security experts predict widespread social and political unrest and violent conflict in the second and third world.

Last week the United Nations’ World Food Program announced it is to provide U.S. $1.2 billion (£600 million) in additional food aid in the 62 countries hit hardest by the food and fuel crisis.

And Save the Children Sunday launched an emergency appeal to help children in Ethiopia who are suffering from increasing levels of hunger. The charity said a combination of drought and escalating food prices has left 4.6 million people urgently in need of food. In scenes reminiscent of the famines of the 1980s, about 736,000 of these are children under the age of five, a group which is particularly vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition.

More so than terrorism or global warming, food security will become so critical it will change global governance and result in civil unrest and food wars.

“It is clear which countries are going to be at risk,” Graham Hutchings of Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, which provides country-specific daily risk analysis to political leaders, academics, businesses and NGOs, told the Sunday Herald.

“Those who are net importers of food and those with weak governments will fall, in all likelihood. The overthrow of the leader in Haiti in April over food prices is the shape of things to come.

“Those which have come across our radar are Cambodia, parts of India, the Philippines, central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and African countries such as Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. There have been food riots in Egypt, Yemen and Malaysia.”

Hutchings warned there is a very real risk of an angry popular and political backlash against the globalization and international capitalism from the world’s growing hungry. It is understood that one of the major drivers of the food crisis is financial speculation by the West. Capital flight from the subprime market into secure commodities such as wheat futures has pushed the price of food beyond the reach of the developing world.

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Hit by fuel price, which way will motorists turn?

From: Reuters


With oil prices near $140 a barrel, motorists are starting to look seriously at both alternative fuels and electric vehicles as a way to be able to keep driving their cars.

But experts say it will take five to 10 years for these alternatives to take root, given the capacity challenge for an auto industry that is adding 65 million new cars a year to a fleet of 1 billion.

In the meantime, car and parts makers, oil companies and even electricity generators are left guessing which way motorists will turn and what technology will win.

"We don't know at the moment whether it's battery-based electricity technology or sustainable biofuels that will be successful," said James Smith, chairman of Shell UK Ltd, speaking at a climate change seminar hosted by Reuters.

"The strategic issues confronting us are very significant."

A range of options will emerge as motorists pick between "plug-in" electric cars, longer-range gasoline-electric "hybrids," or simply downsized, more efficient gasoline and diesel models, and as governments, worried by global warming and energy security, give more or less support for biofuels.

Hybrid vehicles, which have both a conventional internal combustion engine and electric motor and battery, are already popular. Toyota Motor Corp has sold 1.5 million Prius hybrids since 1997 and it wants hybrids to reach one tenth of its total sales by 2011.

In a hybrid, the electric battery and motor aid stop-start city driving, while the gasoline engine allows longer trips, together cutting energy use and carbon emissions.

Hybrids accounted for 3 percent of U.S. car sales in 2007. Makers absorb most of the extra $5,000 engine cost, leaving the street price only $1000 to $2000 higher.

Hybrids could be "broadly present" in the auto industry in five years, said Vlatko Vlatkovic, head of electrification research at GE, which has much to gain from widespread electrification of road transport.

Paul Nieuwenhuis, automotive researcher at Cardiff University in Wales, said that hybrids like the Prius are soon likely to be overtaken by plug-in hybrids, which will have the extra option to charge from the grid.

General Motors Corp wants its plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, to reach showrooms in 2010. European brands including Mercedes, Volkswagen and BMW and Japan's Honda plan rivals.

Pure plug-in electric cars, meanwhile, have no combustion engine at all and have struggled to shake off a quirky image -- with tiny sales of fabulous cars at prohibitive prices or else economy-sized "golf carts," both with limited range.

Tesla Motors of San Carlos, California, advertises a Roadster with a top speed of 125 miles per hour (200 kmh) and a range of 220 miles. But Linda Nicholes, president of electric car pressure group "Plug in America," is still awaiting delivery two years after ordering hers at a price of


"We've been waiting eagerly ever since. I've been told September (2008)," said Nicholes, who is nonetheless still excited. "It's sleek, snazzy. All will be forgiven."

For those who can't wait, Monaco's privately held Venturi is marketing a 297,000 euros ($460,900) electric car with a top speed of 160 kilometres per hour (100 mph), called 'Fetish'.

"It's the pleasure to drive which will make it someone's favorite object," a spokeswoman said, explaining the name and adding it had sold five models on an expected 25-unit run.

Meanwhile, specialist car producer Think, based in Oslo, plans a run of 8,000 full electric cars in 2009 at 20,000 euros ($30,860) each.

And a Renault-Nissan alliance plans to start deploying full electric cars from 2010.

Electric car developments hinge on batteries which are light but pack enough power to travel more than 100 miles (160 km). Aggressive conversion of the global fleet to electric alternatives may take 30 years, said Charles Gassenheimer, chairman of lithium-ion battery supplier Ener1, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Alternatively, you can keep your car but switch the fuel, up to a point. Sugar-based biofuels are making serious headway against gasoline in Brazil, where nearly 90 percent of new cars have flex-fuel engines, which burn any combination of the two.

In the United States, tax breaks help biofuels made from corn supply about 2 percent of the domestic fuel mix.

But biofuels made from crops such as corn aren't the near-term replacement for gasoline, either. A finite supply of farm land has pitted them against food, inflating grain prices.

A tank of standard, U.S. corn biofuel blend, called E10, contains enough calories to sustain an adult man for 11 days. That underlines the problem of using food to make car fuel while 850 million people in the world are hungry.

Limited scope for global crop yields improvements will limit such "first generation" biofuels. Further off, sustainable biofuels which come from algae or woodchips and don't compete with food, may reach 10 percent of U.S. road fuel by 2022.

While some experts say that cars fueled by hydrogen fuel cells, which rely on the conversion of hydrogen and oxygen into water and which don't have harmful emissions, are promising, the technology is still in its infancy.

Honda Motor Co, began production on June 16 of a new fuel-cell car, the FCX Clarity, but has plans to sell only 200 in the United States and Japan in the next three years. The biggest hurdles for proliferation of hydrogen cell vehicles are a lack of fuelling stations and the high cost of development.

(Reporting by Gerard Wynn; Additional reporting by Ran Kim in Tokyo; Editing by Eddie Evans)


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