Thursday, July 3, 2008

Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis

Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive

Corn used for biofuel

A handful of corn before it is processed. Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush.

"It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House," said one yesterday.

The news comes at a critical point in the world's negotiations on biofuels policy. Leaders of the G8 industrialised countries meet next week in Hokkaido, Japan, where they will discuss the food crisis and come under intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels.

It will also put pressure on the British government, which is due to release its own report on the impact of biofuels, the Gallagher Report. The Guardian has previously reported that the British study will state that plant fuels have played a "significant" part in pushing up food prices to record levels. Although it was expected last week, the report has still not been released.

"Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises," said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. "It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as "the first real economic crisis of globalisation".

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: "Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

Since April, all petrol and diesel in Britain has had to include 2.5% from biofuels. The EU has been considering raising that target to 10% by 2020, but is faced with mounting evidence that that will only push food prices higher.

"Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

Other reviews of the food crisis looked at it over a much longer period, or have not linked these three factors, and so arrived at smaller estimates of the impact from biofuels. But the report author, Don Mitchell, is a senior economist at the Bank and has done a detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, which allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food supply.

The report points out biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had such a dramatic impact.

Supporters of biofuels argue that they are a greener alternative to relying on oil and other fossil fuels, but even that claim has been disputed by some experts, who argue that it does not apply to US production of ethanol from plants.

"It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices," said Dr David King, the government's former chief scientific adviser, last night. "All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change."

Biodiversity: Some species could be wiped out 100 times faster than feared, say researchers

· Calculations of risk found to be seriously flawed
· Most-endangered may be months from extinction

mountain gorilla in Rwanda

Mountain gorilla in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda. Photograph: Andy Rouse/Corbis

Endangered species could become extinct 100 times faster than previously thought, scientists warned yesterday in a bleak reassessment of the threats to global biodiversity. They say methods used to predict when species will die out are seriously flawed and dramatically underestimate the speed at which some will disappear.

The findings, presented in the journal Nature, suggest that animals such as the western gorilla, the Sumatran tiger and Malayan sun bear, the smallest of the bear family, may become extinct much sooner than conservationists had feared.

Ecologists Brett Melbourne, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Alan Hastings at the University of California, Davis said conservation organisations should use updated extinction models to urgently re-evaluate the risks to wildlife. "Some species could have months instead of years left, while other species that haven't even been identified as under threat yet should be listed as endangered," said Melbourne.

The warning has particular implications for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles an annual "red list" of endangered species. Last year the list upgraded western gorillas to critically endangered, after populations of a subspecies were found to have been badly affected by Ebola virus and the commercial trade in bushmeat.

The Yangtze river dolphin was listed as critically endangered, but could possibly be already extinct.

The researchers analysed mathematical models used to predict extinction risks and found that while they included some factors crucial to predicting a species' survival they overlooked others. For example, models took into account the fact that some animals died from rare accidents such as falling out of a tree. They also included chance environmental threats, such as sudden heatwaves or rainstorms that could kill off animals.

But what the extinction models failed to include was the proportion of males compared with females in a population, and the differences in reproductive success between individuals in the group. When they factored these aspects into risk assessments for particular species they found the danger of extinction rose substantially.

"The older models could be severely overestimating the time to extinction. Some species could go extinct 100 times sooner than we expect," Melbourne said.

The researchers showed that the missing factors - the number of males to females, and variations in the number of offspring - were capable of causing unexpected large swings in the size of a population, sometimes causing it to grow but also increasing the risk that a population crashed and became extinct.

To test the new models, Melbourne's team studied populations of beetles in the laboratory. "The results showed that the old models misdiagnosed the importance of different types of randomness, much like miscalculating the odds in an unfamiliar game of cards because you didn't know the rules," he said.

For some endangered species, such as mountain gorillas, conservationists could collect data on individuals and plug the information into models to predict these animals' chances of survival.

"For many other species, like marine fish, the best biologists can do is measure abundances and population fluctuations," Melbourne said.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, who manages the IUCN red list in Cambridge, said extinction estimates were often inadequate. "We are certainly underestimating the number of species that are in danger of becoming extinct because there are around 1.8m described species and we've only been able to assess 41,000 of those."

The latest study could help refine models used to decide which species are put on the red list, he said. "We are constantly looking at how we evaluate extinction risk, and it may be they have hit on something that can help us."

More than 16,000 species worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to a 2007 report from the IUCN. One in four mammal species, one in eight bird species and one in three amphibian species are on the organisation's red list. An updated list is due to be published in October.

Next week, the IUCN is expected to highlight the dire state of the world's corals after surveying the condition of more than 1,000 species around the world.

McCain, Obama and hot air

By focusing on research and development instead of carbon cuts, the next US president could leave the best possible legacy: a high-income, low-carbon energy world

Whatever the outcome of the United States' presidential election, climate change policy will be transformed. Both candidates have placed great importance on global warming. Republican John McCAin believes that it presents "a test of foresight, of political courage, and of the unselfish concern that one generation owes to the next," while Democrat Barack Obama calls it "one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation".
It remains far from clear, however, whether the shift in rhetoric and policy will move the planet any closer to embracing the best response. Both McCain and Obama could leave future generations lumbered with the costs of major cuts in carbon emissions – without major cuts in temperatures.

Both politicians are keen to tap into voters' concerns about global warming. McCain launched a television commercial declaring that he had "stood up to President George Bush" on global warming. If elected, Obama plans to count on former vice president and passionate campaigner Al Gore to help "lead the fight" against warming.

Each would introduce aggressive targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Obama's plan would reduce emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, while McCain aims to ensure that emissions are 60% lower by then. Both would achieve these ambitious cuts by the same method: a cap-and-trade system that imposes limits on industry emissions and forces businesses to buy rights to any additional emissions.

A cap-and-trade system can seem like a neat market solution. In fact, it is worse than a straightforward carbon tax. With a tax, the costs are obvious. With a cap-and-trade system, the costs – in terms of jobs, household consumption, and economic growth – are hidden, shifted around, and not easy to estimate, though models indicate they will run into trillions of dollars.
Not everybody would lose. Some big businesses in privileged positions would make a fortune from exploiting this rather rigged market. And politicians

would have an opportunity to control the number and distribution of emission permits and the flow of billions of dollars in subsidies and sweeteners. This is a very expensive, unwieldy way to achieve a very small reduction in temperatures.

The Warner-Lieberman bill on climate change – a piece of legislation which was recently abandoned in the US Senate but is seen as a precursor of future policy – would have postponed the temperature increase in 2050 by about two years. Recently, the Copenhagen Consensus project gathered eight of the world's top economists – including five Nobel laureates – to examine research on the best ways to tackle 10 global challenges: air pollution, conflict, disease, global warming, hunger and malnutrition, lack of education, gender inequity, lack of water and sanitation, terrorism, and trade barriers.
Their goal was to create a prioritised list showing how money could best be spent combating these problems. The panel concluded that the least-effective use of resources would come from simply cutting CO2 emissions.

A lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the group that shared last year's Nobel peace prize with Gore – told the experts that spending $800bn over 100 years solely on mitigating emissions would reduce inevitable temperature increases by just 0.4F by the end of this century. Even accounting for the key environmental damage from warming, we would lose money, with avoided damages of just $685bn for our $800bn investment.

The expert panel concluded that investing in research and development into low-carbon energy would be a much sounder, more effective option – an effort that both McCain and Obama support. But this, not carbon emissions, should be the core of their climate change policy.

Currently, low-carbon energy solutions are prohibitively expensive. The typical cost of cutting a ton of CO2 is now about $20, but the damage from a ton of carbon in the atmosphere is about $2. So we need to reduce by roughly 10-fold the cost of cutting emissions. We can achieve this by spending dramatically more on researching and developing low-carbon energy.

The US could provide leadership by committing to spending 0.05% of its GDP exploring non-carbon-emitting energy technologies – wind, wave, or solar power – or capturing CO2 emissions from power plants. It would then have the moral authority to demand that other nations do the same. By focusing more on research and development, and less in carbon cuts, both candidates could embrace a solution that encourages the best of the American innovative spirit and leaves the best possible legacy to future generations: a high-income, low-carbon energy world.

In association with Project Syndicate, 2008.

The world's will to tackle climate change is irresistible

Far from stymying the environmental cause, the downturn in the world's economies highlights just how pressing it is

Last year marked a watershed in awareness of environmental issues, and in particular the challenge of climate change. Among many breakthroughs, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fourth assessment report - laying out the science of global warming more clearly than ever - and the Nobel peace prize was co-awarded to the panel and Al Gore.

Today, however, many nations are facing recessionary trends and high rates of inflation. Oil prices are at an all-time high, and look likely to rise even higher. A price touching $140 per barrel is something no one could have predicted even six months ago, despite spiralling prices throughout 2007.

Food prices have also increased as a result of fundamental factors, including rapidly increasing demand for food grains against prolonged stagnation in supply. Increasing prices have hit some of the poorest countries most severely, particularly those that have low incomes and are largely dependent on imports for basic subsistence. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, annual food expenditure of the most vulnerable countries has more than doubled since 2000. In a number of these nations food now constitutes 70%-80% of family expenditure. It is not at all surprising that we've seen food riots and large-scale demonstrations.

In this context, there is growing worldwide concern that the economic slowdown could lead to a parallel slowdown in environmental progress, with governments less willing to advocate the hard steps essential for reducing greenhouse emissions. This is indeed a worry, but I see a ray of hope, as I believe that global society is seriously questioning whether today's problems can be solved through short-term measures, as has been the case with routine ups and downs in the economy during past cycles. Could this lead to a widespread realisation that today's problems are the result of fundamental flaws in past growth and development patterns? There are, in my view, two reasons to suggest that the answer could be yes.

First, the world has reached an unprecedented level of awareness of the science behind climate change, with the contents of the IPCC's fourth assessment disseminated extensively by the media worldwide. A growing number of people - and not just typical environmentalists - now believe that climate change is not a concern for the distant future but something we are witnessing here and now. The cyclone that caused massive devastation in Burma and the extensive floods in Iowa, for instance, are linked in the public perception to climate change. Public concerns in several parts of the world have been heightened to such an extent that extreme weather events are invariably attributed to climate change. Never before has human society been gripped by such a strong realisation of the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels - and even change our lifestyles - in order to reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

Second, this existing resolve is being strengthened considerably by increasing oil prices, which prompted even a conservative Republican like President Bush to state that America is "addicted to oil" and must switch to alternatives. Car manufacturers are already investing heavily in electric vehicles - which reduce oil dependency and emissions - and public transport systems are getting renewed attention. As some politicians in the UK and elsewhere have recently argued, with high oil prices the world can't afford not to go green.

The possibility of a shift to other forms of energy is something that is not lost on the major oil producers. So it's no surprise that Saudi Arabia has convened a summit of producers and consumers to see what needs to be done to stabilise oil prices. A continuing increase in prices would accelerate a move towards renewables, which would not support the interests of producer nations.

Based on all this, and on my discussions with policymakers, I believe the world is beginning to look at the deep underlying causes of its current problems, and is preparing for radical change. Barack Obama's performance in the US presidential race is, I think, symptomatic of a widespread thirst for such a change.

What we have today is no routine downturn in the conventional economic cycle. It is, and is seen to be, the crossroads in human progress that compels a major turn in direction. I believe the current generation is ready for such a shift and is unlikely to be distracted for long by an economic downturn that emanates from serious systemic distortions in existing patterns of growth.

· Rajendra K Pachauri chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is director general of The Energy & Resources Institute

Tackling Qingdao's invading algae

rom: BBC News


by Quentin Sommerville

Young recruits from the People's Liberation Army threw off their shoes and stood knee-deep in the thick green algae that has overwhelmed the Qingdao coastline.

Some had shovels, others used pitchforks, but mostly they worked with their hands to tear up great lumps of the heavy, sodden weed.

More than 10,000 of the recruits have been deployed.

"We're working nine-hour days. I've been here six days, and still more and more of it keeps coming," said one of the soldiers.

With every wave more of the algae comes ashore. Earth-moving equipment has arrived and long mechanical conveyor belts; perhaps they will speed up the progress.

On one of the beaches is holidaymaker Wang Weizhong. The sludge ruined his holiday, and his anticipation of the Olympic Games.

"We are really disappointed," he said. "We had no idea something like this would happen here."

"We came for the pretty scenery, to get a taste of the preparations and excitement of the Olympics," he said.

Locals say the algae has never been so thick here - agricultural and industrial pollution are thought to be responsible.

But China, embarrassed by the most vivid proof yet of its environmental problems, says the algae is a natural occurrence, and blames the sea for being too salty, the sun for being too hot.

At a news conference earlier in the day one official suggested that algae could be good for you.

"The Japanese eat it," she said.

Article continues at BBC News.

G8 could see climate deal and substance in doubt


By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - G8 leaders could well cobble together some agreement next week on goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but bolder progress in climate change talks will probably have to wait until a new U.S president takes office.

Climate change is high on the agenda for the July 7-9 summit in Hokkaido, northern Japan and is the focus of an expanded Major Economies Meeting (MEM) on July 9 that brings the G8 together with eight other countries including China, India and Brazil.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda wants to boost momentum for U.N.-led talks on a new framework beyond limits agreed under the Kyoto Protocol, which expire in 2012. Those negotiations are due to conclude in Copenhagen in December next year.

An agreement by 2009 would give certainty to investors wanting to switch to cleaner energy technologies, as well as to participants in growing carbon markets.

The 71-year-old Japanese leader, whose ratings are languishing at around 25 percent on doubts about his leadership, also needs a successful summit to dampen speculation that his party will dump him when the diplomatic pageantry ends.

A general election must be held by late next year.

"The worst scenario is to have no agreement of any kind that the G8 and MEM can explain to the outside world. When leaders meet, you don't do that," Koji Tsuruoka, director general for global issues at Japan's foreign ministry, told Reuters.

"If you come up with a very empty document that says nothing, this would be faulted as the chairman's lack of leadership, although it may not necessarily be the chairman's fault."


G8 leaders agreed last year in Heiligendamm, Germany to seriously consider a global goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Climate campaigners say this year's summit should go further by endorsing that goal, compared to 1990 emissions levels, and linking it to bold and specific mid-term targets for developed countries.

But bickering among G8 members and between advanced and developing countries has raised doubts about how much the leaders can achieve next week.

Japan's point man in pre-summit negotiations, Deputy Foreign Minister Masaharu Kohno, sounded a cautious note this week.

"What we have stressed and want to achieve progress on is an advance from the Heiligendamm summit," he said in a lecture.

"Of course, depending on the issue, there could be a retreat."

Europe wants the G8 to commit to a goal of halving by mid-century the emissions that cause global warming, compared with 1990 levels.

Japan is urging the leaders agree to a common vision of a 50 percent cut by mid-century, without specifying a base year.

The Bush administration, though, says it will only set targets if big emerging economies such as China are on board.

"The G8 countries could certainly take a leadership stand and agree to that (a long-term goal), but I think that really depends on whether Bush is ready to take that leap or not," said Jennifer Morgan, director for climate and energy security at Berlin-based think tank E3G. "Up to this point in time, the U.S. has shown no flexibility on this point."


Both Tokyo and Washington also insist specific interim goals for advanced countries to their reduce emissions by 2020 -- seen by European countries, developing countries and environmentalists as vital -- are not on the table in Hokkaido.

Despite the pre-summit haggling, world leaders' traditional tendency to seek an outcome they can pitch to the public as success means a deal could yet emerge, diplomatic experts said.

"There will be some sort of agreement on a long-term goal," said Kuniyuki Nishimura, research director at Mitsubishi Research Institute. "It will be very diplomatic language, but they will agree and present it to the outside as success."

Nishimura said he expected the G8 leaders to agree that the world should strive toward a goal of halving global emissions by 2050, while the rich countries also show their willingness to provide funds to help developing economies restrain growth in their own emissions and adapt to climate change.

Expectations of agreement on firm targets for developed countries to cut emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020 have faded since Fukuda ruled out such commitments last month, but the G8 is likely to acknowledge the need to set such targets soon.

MEM negotiators agreed last month that major developed countries should set mid-term goals while major developing countries should take steps toward curbing growth in emissions.

Still, with Washington's climate stance expected to shift under a new president, environmentalists are already looking beyond Hokkaido. Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain both want to introduce cap and trade systems for greenhouse gases as part of a goal of big cuts by 2050.

"I'm hopeful there will be a big sea change," Morgan said.

(Additional reporting by Yoko Nishikawa, Chisa Fujioka and David Fogarty; Editing by Rodney Joyce)

Greenville Injection Project Could Have Global Implications


by Ben Sutherly

GREENVILLE - A porous rock layer filled with saltwater that underlies much of the Midwest could permanently store half of the greenhouse gases released in the next century by industries in Ohio and neighboring states.

That's the prediction of the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, which is embarking on a large-scale test injection of carbon dioxide into that rock layer, known as the Mount Simon Sandstone formation.

The $92.8 million project, funded mostly with taxpayer dollars, would compress and inject 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from a new ethanol plant in Greenville. The gas would be injected more than 3,000 feet underground from 2010 through 2014.

The Andersons Marathon Ethanol LLC, Ohio's largest ethanol plant, can make 110 million gallons of ethanol from 43 million bushels of corn each year. It also generates annually more than 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas thought to contribute to global warming. Virtually all of that carbon dioxide would be injected underground if the reservoir beneath the ethanol plant's 80-acre site is deemed suitable.

The MRCSP, managed by Columbus-based Battelle, selected the ethanol plant for the test project in part because of timing - the plant opened in February. And, according to a November 2007 project proposal, the ethanol plant offers large quantities of carbon dioxide, which can be sold for commercial uses such as dry ice, at a substantial discount.

The amount of carbon dioxide released by the ethanol plant is a small fraction of that released by a typical coal-fired, 1,000-megawatt power plant, which produces 1 million tons of carbon dioxide in little more than a month, said Debra Crow, a spokeswoman for The Andersons.

"We're interested in being a good corporate citizen and helping with any kind of research that can improve the environment," Crow said.

Greenhouse gases a threat Pacific Ocean life, scientists say

Thursday, July 3, 2008

(07-03) 16:22 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Ocean waters welling up from the depths along the Pacific Coast from Canada to Mexico are threatening a wide variety of marine organisms as carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, saturates the water and increases its corrosive acidity, government scientists report.

The world's oceans now absorb millions of tons of the global warming gas each year, and thus help to slow the pace of climate change, but the benefit is far outweighed by extreme and damaging changes in the water's chemistry, according to seagoing oceanographers.In separate recent reports in the journal Science and in congressional testimony the scientists warn that the rate of "ocean acidification" is increasing, and say damage to some of the most important living organisms in the sea's food web is becoming more apparent.

The acid can endanger all kinds of marine animals, from the shells of microscopic plankton to the beaks of giant squid, biologists are finding from laboratory experiments and seagoing studies.

Richard A. Feely, a chemical oceanographer in Seattle with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estimates that the world's oceans have become at least 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Age began more than 200 years ago, and that if greenhouse gas emissions continue uncontrolled, the world's oceans in this century will become 150 percent more acidic than they are today.

"While the changes are alarming, it's nearly impossible to predict how this unprecedented acidification will affect entire ecosystems," says Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist with the Carnegie Institute's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford.

Two teams, similar findings

Caldeira and his colleagues raise the issue today in Science, and only two week ago in the same journal, Feely's team from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory reported on their most recent ocean survey along the West Coast and over the continental shelf aboard NOAA's oceanographic research ship Wecoma, sailing more than 2,000 miles from Queen Charlotte sound in British Columbia to San Gregorio in Baja California.

During May and June of last year the Wecoma's researchers took repeated samples of the upwelling water that rose from the deep sea bottom onto the continental shelf, where depths range from 120 to 1,200 feet, and discovered that the water had been heavily saturated with carbon dioxide and acidified as it lay on the bottom for 50 years.

On another NOAA ship, the MacArthur II, water sampling by Feely's team off the Golden Gate and along other sections of the Northern California coast revealed that the acidified water reached all the way to the surface, the scientists reported.

Each spring along the West Coast, winds from the northwest blow strongly across the sea surface toward the shore and generate strong upwelling currents, Feely explained. The upwelling, in turn, brings water saturated with carbon dioxide from the deep bottom toward the surface. Then, as the gas mixes with seawater, it becomes carbonic acid, and when that acidity of the water becomes strong enough it can dissolve the calcium carbonate shells of many of the sea's most important animals.

Scientists have already reported the severe damage that acidity in seawater is causing to corals - both the shallow coral reefs of the tropics and the lesser-known deepwater corals of the northern oceans that also require calcium carbonate to build their bony skeletal homes.

But mussels, oysters, crabs, urchins, squid, and the kind of microscopic carbonate-shelled plankton that form the diet of creatures ranging in size from krill to whales, are also organisms that can fall prey to increases in the ocean's acidity, according to Feely.

A threat to the food chain

One tiny shelled organism, a swimming snail called a pteropod, is a major food source for juvenile Pacific coast salmon and other fish, Feely noted, and their loss due to increases in the ocean's acidity could in turn seriously endanger one of the most important commercial fisheries on the West Coast - not only salmon, but mackerel, herring and cod.

"We have little idea what ocean acidification will do to fish eggs or fish larvae, or how the loss of organisms at the base of the food chain might affect the larger fish that so many people have come to depend on," Caldeira said last month in testimony to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

Or as Feely put it in his own testimony before the same congressional committee: "Since ocean acidification research is still in its infancy, it is impossible to predict exactly how the individual species responses will cascade throughout the marine food chain and impact the overall structure of marine ecosystems."

Sea urchins make ideal models for studying the effects of environmental stresses on the development of other marine animals, and their entire genome was sequenced only two years ago.

At UC Santa Barbara Gretchen Hofmann, a leading marine biologist, has collected sea urchins from Antarctica and now cultures their embryos in her laboratory where she varies the concentration of carbon dioxide in sea water to study its effects on the sea urchin genes.

As that concentration doubles and doubles again from 385 parts per million to 1,000 parts per million - the same rate of increase predicted by the International Panel on Climate Change for this century - acidification increases too, Hofmann said Thursday.

"We can see tipping points where genetic changes in the embryos occur all along the way as carbon dioxide in the water rises," she said, "and at 1,000 parts per million the entire metabolism of the embryos crashes, their genes shut deeply down, and they can't make their skeletons at all."

E-mail David Perlman at


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