Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cheney wanted testimony cut, ex-EPA official says

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Dick Cheney's office pushed for major deletions in congressional testimony on the public health consequences of climate change, fearing the presentation by a leading health official might make it harder to avoid regulating greenhouse gases, a former EPA official maintains.

Dick Cheney's office requested that testimony about climate change be cut, an ex-EPA official says.

When six pages were cut from testimony on climate change and public health by the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last October, the White House insisted the changes were made because of reservations raised by White House advisers about the accuracy of the science.
But Jason K. Burnett, until last month the senior adviser on climate change to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson, says that Cheney's office was deeply involved in getting nearly half of the CDC's original draft testimony removed.
"The Council on Environmental Quality and the office of the vice president were seeking deletions to the CDC testimony (concerning) ... any discussions of the human health consequences of climate change," Burnett has told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The three-page letter, a response to an inquiry by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, the panel's chairwoman, was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Boxer planned a news conference later in the day.
Burnett, 31, a lifelong Democrat who resigned his post last month as associate deputy EPA administrator because of disagreements over the agency's response to climate change, describes deep political concerns at the White House, including in Cheney's office, about linking climate change directly to public health or damage to the environment.
Scientists believe manmade pollution is warming the earth and if the process is not reversed it will cause significant climate changes that pose broad public health problems from increases in disease to more injuries from severe weather.

Senate and House committees have been trying for months to get e-mail exchanges and other documents to determine the extent of political influence on government scientists, but have been rebuffed.
The letter by Burnett for the first time suggests that Cheney's office was deeply involved in downplaying the impacts of climate change as related to public health and welfare, Senate investigators believe.
Cheney's office also objected last January over congressional testimony by Administrator Johnson that "greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment."
An official in Cheney's office "called to tell me that his office wanted the language changed" with references to climate change harming the environment deleted, Burnett said. Nevertheless, the phrase was left in Johnson's testimony.
Cheney's office and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) worried that if key health officials provided detailed testimony about global warming's consequences on public health or the environment, it could make it more difficult to avoid regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, Burnett believes.
The EPA currently is examining whether carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas, poses a danger to public health and welfare. The Supreme Court has said if it does, it must be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Nowhere were these White House concerns more apparent than when CDC Director Julie Gerberding, the head of the government's premier public health watchdog, testified about climate change and public health before Boxer's committee last October. The White House deleted six of the original 14 pages of Gerberding's testimony, including a list of likely public health impacts of global warming.
The White House, at the urging of Cheney's office, "requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change," wrote Burnett.
"CEQ contacted me to argue that I could best keep options open for the (EPA) administrator (on regulating carbon dioxide) if I would convince CDC to delete particular sections of their testimony," Burnett said in the letter to Boxer.
But he said he refused to press CDC on the deletions because he believed the CDC's draft testimony was "fundamentally accurate."
Burnett, in a telephone interview, said he opposed making the extensive deletions because "it was the right thing to do." He declined to elaborate about White House involvement beyond his July 6 letter to Boxer.
As a Democrat, Burnett, seems to have been an odd choice as a senior policy adviser and key liaison with the White House in Bush administration's EPA.
Over the last eight years, he has contributed nearly $125,000 to various Democratic politicians, starting with Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Government. He supports Democrat Barack Obama for president.
Burnett caught the attention of Bush administration insiders as a researcher at the Center for Regulatory Study, a joint effort by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, where he co-authored a number of reports on regulation including one criticizing a ban on using cell phones while driving and another criticizing the EPA regulation of arsenic as too expensive with limited benefits.

100 months to save the Earth

There isn't much time to turn things around. And today's G8 announcements on climate change set the bar too low.

John Sauven


The informal annual gathering of the world's most powerful leaders emerged after the oil crisis and the subsequent recession in the 1970s. The vested interests of this group in the global economy and access to the world's resources are obvious. The eight countries now forming the group represent between them the bulk of the world's economic activity; they also own most of the world's firepower and consume most of the world's resources.

Given the vested interests you'd think then that the G8 would be focused on climate change: a threat "more serious even than the threat of terrorism" (Sir David King); "the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen", which will cause economic havoc costing more than two world wars and the Great Depression combined (Professor Nicholas Stern). Surely that is just the sort of a challenge that the big boys club ought to be taking on?

Global emissions in 1990 were 40bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Estimates put current emissions at around 55bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year. If we continue on this path then by 2050 the figure will be a colossal 85 billion tonnes. A 50% cut using a 1990 baseline means getting down to just 20bn tonnes a year by 2050. What's not being talked about is how we get there.

The world's climate experts say that that the world's CO2 output must peak within the next decade and then drop, very fast, if we are to reach this sort of long term reduction. In short, we have about 100 months to turn the global energy system around. The action taken must be immediate and far reaching.

If the G8 wants to be taken seriously it should stop debating what the goal is for 2050 and introduce a moratorium on all new coal fired power stations in their countries. Coal burning is the biggest single cause of CO2 pollution and the greatest threat to the climate. We can live without coal in the developed world and we have better options. They should launch an Apollo programme for renewable energy and start a campaign against energy wastage to secure genuinely clean energy supplies for the coming decades. They must act decisively to finally stop the mass deforestation that on its own accounts for a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Professor Stern, climate change is likely to result in droughts and floods that will create 200 million climate refugees and it could make two-fifths of the world's species extinct. Yet to solve it, as challenging as it may seem, would only cost 1 or 2% of global GDP. Roughly what is spent worldwide on advertising. This is pocket change for the G8. Just these eight countries between them account for about 65% of global GDP.

This club is a powerful symbol of global inequality. If the G8 has any role at all, it should be to redress that inequality. That means taking responsibility for the climate impact of the industrialisation and consumption that has made the G8 into the biggest, richest and most powerful set of countries on Earth. The G8 nations are to blame for 62% of the CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere today. Tackling climate change is in their own interests as well as those of the 86% of the world's population not represented at the table in Hokkaido this week

Environmentalists dismiss G-8 emissions target

TOYAKO, Japan (CNN) -- A call from the world's most powerful nations to establish the goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2050, was criticized by environmentalists Tuesday.

Oxfam members dressed as G8 leaders hold balloons representing the carbon their countries emit per capita.

Oxfam members dressed as G8 leaders hold balloons representing the carbon their countries emit per capita.

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The agreement by the Group of Eight industrialized economies -- which includes the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia -- was struck during the G-8 summit in northern Japan.

The goal must be compatible with "economic growth and energy security," the leaders said in a statement. They also said it must be done with cooperation from all major economies, including China and India.

However critics argued that the 50 percent reduction target was insufficient, and have called for ambitious midterm targets for countries to cut emissions by 2020.

"At this rate, by 2050 the world will be cooked and the G-8 leaders will be long forgotten," Antonio Hill, spokesman for Oxfam International, told The Associated Press.

"The G-8's endorsement of a tepid 50 by 50 climate goal leaves us with a 50-50 chance of a climate meltdown. Rather than a breakthrough, the G-8's announcement on 2050 is another stalling tactic," he said.

Kim Carstensen, Director of the WWF Global Climate Initiative, was equally scathing: "So little progress after a whole year of minister meetings and negotiations is not only a wasted opportunity, it falls dangerously short of what is needed to protect people and nature from climate change."

Ben Wikler of AVAAZ, a group that champions environmental concerns, said: "The failure to act on 2020 targets is a failure to take responsibility, and our members around the world feel that there is a childishness to not taking responsibility."

The European Union is on record as wanting an agreement to require developed countries to cut their emissions by 25 to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The United States, Japan and Canada oppose those targets.

Previous efforts to prompt coordinated global action on climate change have stalled.

Ten years ago, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change passed the Kyoto Protocol with the goal of limiting greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The United States was the only one among 175 parties -- including the European Union -- to reject it. Video U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gives his view »

Washington has long argued that China and India should be required to address their rapidly rising emissions. President George W. Bush opposed the Kyoto Protocol because it did not include strict emissions limits for China and India.

During the Bali conference on climate change last year, the United States reluctantly signed onto an agreement calling for two years of additional negotiations on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

"The negotiations must proceed on the view that the problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone. Major developing economies must likewise act," the White House said in a statement.

The Bali pact is meant as a guide for more climate talks, which will culminate in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.

Monday, July 7, 2008

G8 leaders feast at world's top table

After a day spent discussing food shortages, the world's most powerful leaders sat down to a lavish eight course meal

As the food crisis began to bite, the rumblings of discontent grew louder - and finally, after a day of discussing food shortages and soaring prices, the famished stomachs of the G8 leaders could bear it no longer.

The most powerful stomachs in the world were today compelled to stave off the great Hokkaido Hunger by lining themselves with an eight course dinner prepared by 25 chefs.

This multi-pronged attack on global leadership pangs was launched only hours after a not inconsiderable lunch - four courses, washed down with Chateau Grillet 2005 — which had clearly fully failed to quell appetites possibly enlarged by agonising over the starving citizens of the world.

The G8 gathering has been described by some as a "world food shortages summit" as leaders seek to combat spiralling prices of basic foodstuffs in the developed world and starvation in the developing world.

But perhaps not since Marie Antoinette was supposed to have leaned from a Versailles palace window and suggested that her breadless peasants eat cake can leaders have demonstrated such insensitivity to daily hardship than at the luxury Windsor Hotel on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Gordon Brown, who had earlier called on Britons to waste less food, had been spending the day talking about the famine in Africa, among other subjects.

He then joined the other politicians, and five of their spouses, at the social dinner, which began with four bite-sized amuse bouche, featuring corn stuffed with caviar, smoked salmon and sea urchin, hot onion tart and winter lily bulb.

Guests at the summit, which is costing £238m, were then able to pick items from a tray modelled on a folding fan and decorated with bamboo grasses, including diced fatty flesh of tuna fish, avocado and jellied soy sauce and Japanese herb "shisho".

Hairy crab Kegani bisque-style soup was another treat in a meal prepared by the Michelin starred chef Katsuhiro Nakamura, the grand chef at Hotel Metropolitan Edmont in Tokyo, alongside salt-grilled bighand thornyhead, a small, red Pacific fish, with a vinegary water pepper sauce.

The leaders have told their people to tighten their belts for lean times ahead, but you feared for presidential and prime ministerial girdles after the chance to tuck into further dishes including milk-fed lamb, roasted lamb with c├Ępes and black truffle with something called emulsion sauce.

Finally, there was a "fantasy" dessert, a special cheese selection accompanied by lavender honey and caramelised nuts, while coffee came with candied fruits and vegetables.

The leaders, also troubled by global water shortages, could choose from five different wines and liqueurs, including two brought from France.

Earlier, lunch had included asparagus and truffle soup, crab and supreme of chicken served with nuts and beetroot foam, followed by a special cheese selection, peach compote milk ice cream and coffee served with petits fours.

"The G8 have made a bad start to their summit, with excessive cost and lavish consumption," Andrew Mitchell, the shadow secretary of state for international development, said.

"Surely it is not unreasonable for each leader to give a guarantee that they will stand by their solemn pledges of three years ago ... to help the world's poor. All of us are watching, waiting and listening."

Climate change report like a disaster novel, says Australian minister

A new report by Australia's top scientists predicts that the country will be hit by a 10-fold increase in heatwaves and that droughts will almost double in frequency and become more widespread because of climate change.

The scientific projections envisage rainfall continuing to decline in a country that is already one of the hottest and driest in the world. It says that about 50% of the decrease in rainfall in south-western Australia since the 1950s has probably been due to greenhouse gases.

Yesterday, Australia's agriculture minister, Tony Burke, described the report as alarming and said: "Parts of these high-level projections read more like a disaster novel than a scientific report."

The analysis, commissioned by the government as part of a review of public funding to drought-stricken farmers, was published days after another report, by Professor Ross Garnaut, warned that Australia had to adopt a scheme for trading greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 or face the eventual destruction of sites including the Great Barrier Reef, the wetlands of Kakadu and the nation's food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin.

The prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who swept to victory on a green agenda last November, said the analysis by the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation was "very disturbing".

The reports will put pressure on him to act swiftly on his pledge for Australia to lead the world in tackling polluters. However, the rising cost of living has dented his government's popularity and his plans for a carbon trading scheme have begun to unnerve voters and industry. Rudd has acknowledged that tough debate lies ahead and has said the government will map out its policy options this month.

Yesterday's report revealed that not only would droughts occur more often but that the area affected would be twice as large as now. The proportion of the country having exceptionally hot years could increase from 5% each year to as much as 95%, according to the projections.

The report says rainfall in Australia has been declining since the 1950s and about half of that decrease is due to climate change. It says the current thresholds for farmers to claim financial assistance are out of date because hotter and drier weather will become the norm.

Burke said it was clear that the cycle of drought was going to be "more regular and deeper than ever before". He added: "If we failed to review drought policy, if we were to continue the neglect and pretend that the climate wasn't changing, we would be leaving our farms out to dry."

Parts of Australia are now in a sixth year of drought, and the report coincided with an announcement that there has been a worsening of the drought in New South Wales. Some 65% of the state is affected, an increase of more than 2.3% on last month, although opinion is divided on whether it can be attributed to climate change.

A plague of locusts is also threatening crops in the state, with farmers on 900 farms reporting finding locust eggs. The government plans to fight the infestation with aerial spraying before the eggs hatch.

Ruthless drought in West Timor puts children in crisis

By Arwa Damon

REMOTE WEST TIMOR (CNN) -- Maria's labored breath echoes within the walls of her family's mud hut. Her tiny, bony hands open and close in slow claw-like motions.

Baby Maria weighs just 10 pounds at 15 months due to malnutrition in West Timor.

Baby Maria weighs just 10 pounds at 15 months due to malnutrition in West Timor.

She's 15 months old, but weighs just 10 pounds -- one of countless children under the age of 5 facing severe malnutrition in Indonesia's West Timor. A typical infant weighs about 24 pounds at 15 months.

"Maria sleeps most of the time. Sometimes she cries but not often," her 25-year-old mother Adolphina Fao says softly.Video Watch how malnutrition devastates region »

Maria is fighting to live, wasting away in her remote village where aid officials say climate change has brought on a severe drought in recent years. It's nearly impossible for residents to live off the land like they have for generations.

"It's hard to feed her," her mother says. "Some are good days, some are bad. Sometimes she eats a whole plate, sometimes nothing."

As Fao speaks, she spoons glutinous rice into Maria's tiny mouth. The baby spits out most of it.

Aid officials say Maria is one example of a chronic crisis that has been worsening in West Timor, the Indonesian portion of the island of Timor that is home to about 1.5 million people. Photo See photographs of plight in this remote area »

According to a joint survey by aid groups Church World Service, Helen Keller International and CARE, more than 50 percent of children under 5 in West Timor are suffering from malnutrition. In some areas it's as high as 70 percent -- a higher percentage than areas of Africa.

Of those, nearly 1 in every 10 children suffer from acute malnutrition, meaning they are near death, according to organizers. The study also found that 61 percent of the children suffer from stunted growth.

"Stunting is the result of extended periods of inadequate food intake, poor dietary quality, increased morbidity or a combination of these factors," the study says. "This finding indicates that the diet has been very poor quality for a very long time."

Aid groups also warn that the situation is likely to worsen because of rising global food prices.

Here, far-flung villages lie nestled in deceptively lush green landscape, with no real roads, no electricity and no running water. Barely clothed children play in the dirt.

According to the survey, more than 90 percent of households don't have enough food.

Families try to farm the land, but the prolonged drought has destroyed their crops, cutting off their main food supply. That results in less food for each house, further eroding the supply of much-needed nutrition for young children.

"Nowadays the dry season is lasting longer and longer," says Vincensius Surma, the senior program manager for Church World Service, a global humanitarian agency. "In 2006 and 2007, the dry season lasted for a year."

Dry riverbeds around the region are testament to his statement. Villagers have to walk for miles for water.

Surma travels from remote village to remote village just to follow up on cases that his agency is treating.

One of the families he revisits is Salmoun Ton's. Two of his three children are malnourished. His eldest child has stunted growth. At 8 years old, she's barely taller than her healthy 4-year-old sister. His youngest was severely malnourished and is still drastically underweight.

Ton, a corn farmer, says that his crops aren't producing enough to sustain his family.

"It makes me sad, really sad. As a parent, I feel that I can't properly care for them," Ton says.

Further compounding the crisis is a lack of basic education and health care, proper sanitary habits, and inadequate aid, according to humanitarian officials.

On this visit, Surma finds out that Ton sold their fresh eggs -- a major source of protein -- to buy instant noodles. He then tries to explain basic nutrition to the family.

"We're trying to do everything that we can, but for now the results are definitely not enough," Surma says.

Aid organizations have unsuccessfully battled to bring this tragedy into the international spotlight. There are some donations coming in, but the funds and the resources simply aren't enough given the magnitude of the crisis.

Organizations like Church World Service and CARE have established feeding and education centers to try to combat the crisis. The Indonesian government is also trying to address the crisis by supplying vitamin supplements to hard-hit families and other help, but aid groups say there is little cross coordination.

"We can't implement our mid- or long-term plan for this case because ... so many children are casualties of malnutrition in this region," Surma says.

The main fear is that unless something drastic is done now, whole generations could be lost to acute and chronic malnutrition.


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