Thursday, July 17, 2008

Human consumption: Flying in the face of logic

Forty years after dropping his Population Bomb into the environment debate, Paul Ehrlich is still railing at man's destructiveness

Fruit fly

The eyes have it: the fruit fly can give Homo sapiens some important lessons on sustainable populations. Photograph: Science Photo Library

In 1968, six years after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring - the book regarded as marking the beginning of modern environmental consciousness - a young American entomology professor at Stanford University, California, published The Population Bomb. The tenor of Paul Ehrlich's book echoed the revolutionary sensibility and pervasive anxiety of the time. In it, Ehrlich and his wife, Anne, presented a neo-Malthusian scenario of imminent population explosion and ensuing disaster. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," the Ehrlichs warned. "In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now. At this late date, nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..."

Not surprisingly, the second part of his message - that society must find ways to limit population growth - drew howls of protest. The left saw it as immoral, and feared that the right would use the idea of overpopulation to promote only the right kind of social or ethnic bloodlines. The right worried that population control might limit the rights of individuals. And virtually every one objected to the discussion of human reproduction as a condition of food and habitat as if discussing, say, a population of fruit flies.

Forty years on, the message from Ehrlich, now 76 and the Bing professor of population studies in the department of biological sciences at Stanford, has barely mellowed. He and his wife have just published a new book, The Dominant Animal, the central theme of which is how one species, Homo sapiens, has become so powerful that it can significantly undermine the Earth's ability to support much of life.

It is undeniably timely as we lurch from one grim realisation to another: a climate crisis, then an energy crisis, now a food crisis. And underlying them all is the issue of population. When Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, there were 3.5 billion people on Earth; there are now 6.7 billion. "The connections are so obvious it's appalling that they're not made," he says. "Each person we add now disproportionately impacts on the environment and life-support systems of the planet."

There is a growing sense in the environmental movement that population will again emerge as a central component of the debate on global warming. But it's a discussion that's open to distortion on one side by fringe groups who use the issue as cover for positions on race and immigration, and on another by superstitious thinking that technology will arrive to support and improve living standards for ever greater numbers of people, or that some kind of natural phenomenon - such as a disease, perhaps with a moral or spiritual component - will take the problem out of our hands entirely.

Ehrlich says: "There was a period when people saw the connections - connections that are often quite complex. Obviously, if the US still had the 140 million people we had at the end of the second world war we wouldn't be dependent on foreign oil, and we'd be emitting far less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

He believes that studying our cultural evolution - "where we came from, how we came to dominate the planet, and what that dominance means for our future" - is key to opening a more realistic discussion. "It's absolutely incomprehensible to me that we're in a [US] presidential campaign and no one is discussing any of the issues in The Dominant Animal, issues that are the concern of the majority of the scientific community."

For Ehrlich, though, the critical scalding he received for The Population Bomb and the problematic timeline of its central prediction forces him frequently to revisit and defend his ideas. Except for some developing countries, the globe was not racked by food shortages through the 1970s because advances in farming and technology were able to sustain larger populations.

In 1968, environmental studies was still fringe science. The intervening years have seen not only a boom in the field, but also in the variety and breadth of the issues at hand. "When I wrote The Population Bomb, I knew there would be a problem with climate, but I thought I'd be dead by the time we started to worry," Ehrlich says. "One thing after another has come up - the biodiversity crisis, ozone depletion ... all of which means I have to know more about more things."

Yet the issue of overpopulation and its equally thorny partner, overconsumption, remain near the centre of Ehrlich's study. Reiterating what environmental scientist James Lovelock stated recently, Ehrlich says: "We have grown in number to the point where our presence is perceptibly disabling the planet like a disease." No longer is it clear that technology, so often cited as means of maintaining growth, isn't ecologically counterproductive and fostering a population bubble that must sooner or later burst.

The charm and the curse of the population debate is that one must inevitably return to the subject of fruit flies. When a female finds a pile of rotting bananas, she lays her eggs and the population explodes. When the bananas are used up, the population crashes. Some females find another pile of fruit, and the process starts over. "Our problem is we only have one pile of bananas," Ehrlich says.


The issue of consumption, Ehrlich believes, may be more thorny even than population. So entrenched is the culture of consumption, that debate in the US tends reflexively to skip over the question of curbing domestic energy use and carbon emissions to the question of how to curb growing Indian and Chinese pollution. "Over 50 or 60 years, we turned the US from a country for people to a country for cars," Ehrlich argues. "We should be spending the next 50 years reversing that."

Part of an effective effort, Ehrlich holds, would be to add what economists call the "externalities" to the cost of energy. With the price of petrol reaching over $4 (£2) a gallon and Americans rapidly rethinking their love of huge cars, the price still does not reflect its true cost. For example, Ehrlich says, "we don't pay our share of the US military budget that goes to keeping the flow going, and we don't pay for the treatment for cancers caused by the particulates from burning fossil fuels. We don't pay the full costs of our behaviours."

There is cause for guarded optimism. He says: "If you look at it historically, the rise of environmental consciousness has been extremely rapid. We're only 40 years into it. The trouble is, the environment has been going downhill far faster."

· The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, is published by Island Press.

Russian Research Team Pulls Up Stakes and Gets the Heck Out Due to Melting Ice

From: , Global Warming is Real, More from this Affiliate
Published July 17, 2008 11:02 AM

Russian Research Team Pulls Up Stakes and Gets the Heck Out Due to Melting Ice



Station “North Pole-35” consists of 21 researchers and two dogs living in huts on an ice flow in the western Arctic Ocean, or at least it did until the project was cut short by about six weeks due to the unexpected extent of the sea ice melt.

When the team set up their camp early last September, they fully expected to remain until late August of this year. But then their ice flow, which was originally 1.2 by 2.5 miles, shrank to a mere 1000 by 2000 feet after drifting more than 1550 miles.

The evacuation is ahead of schedule because of global warming” said Sergei Balyasnikov of the Arctic and Antarctic Institute in St. Petersburg.

The nuclear powered ice-breaker Arktika will escort the research vessel Mikhail Somov to pluck the researchers from their shrinking home of nearly a year.

Many polar scientists believe there is a greater than 50:50 chance the Arctic will be ice-free this summer, decades ahead of predictions of only a short while ago.

AFGHANISTAN: 1.5 million "severely" hit by drought - minister

From: IRIN


KABUL, 17 July 2008 (IRIN) - At least 1.5 million people in 19 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - mostly farming communities in the north - have been severely affected by drought and are in need of urgent humanitarian relief, an Afghan minister told IRIN.

"About 1.5 million people have lost 70-80 percent of their livelihoods - mostly rain-fed agriculture and livestock - owing to the drought," said Ehsan Zia, minister of rural rehabilitation and development.

The country has about 1.5 million hectares of rain-fed agricultural land which provided one third of domestic cereal production (including wheat, beans, rice and maize) in 2007.

The drought, which officials blame on global warming, has also affected irrigated agricultural land, with yields down 40 percent in many places compared to 2007.

Afghanistan's domestic cereal production is thus set to fall to about 2.3 million tonnes as against 4.6 million tonnes in 2007 - a 50 percent drop - the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said.

Afghanistan produced close to 90 percent of its domestic cereal consumption needs in 2007, but has long been dependent on imports from Pakistan to make up the shortfall.

Afghan officials say the current shortfall will be made good by food aid deliveries and imports.

Article continues at IRIN.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Forest funding 'could put billions in wrong hands'

The rush to protect forests as a way to tackle global warming could see billions of pounds handed over to corrupt politicians, criminals and polluting industries, experts have warned.

The Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of groups from around the world, says not enough has been done to address land rights in tropical countries, where much of the money is being directed. Without clearer guidelines on land ownership and involvement by local people, they say, the funds provided by rich countries, including Britain, to protect trees could fuel violent conflict and fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Deforestation causes about a fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and how to protect the huge stocks of carbon locked in tropical forests has become a key issue in the climate change debate. Sir Nicholas Stern, in his 2006 review of the economics of the problem, said that £2.5bn a year could be enough to prevent deforestation across the eight most important countries. Britain and Norway have already pledged £108m to a fund to protect forests in the Congo basin. Rich countries paying tropical regions to protect forests is likely to form part of a new global climate deal to replace the Kyoto protocol, which could be agreed next year.

Stern also said that a series of institutional and policy reforms were needed, including forest property rights. Without such changes, said Andy White, coordinator of the initiative, the money aimed at protecting trees could go to central government officials, many of whom were closely tied to illegal logging and mining activities. He said direct payments to local groups would be more effective, but that required them to be given clear land rights. Evidence from Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil showed that local communities protected the forests better than governments, he said.

White added: "These forests are often in lawless regions with a history of conflict. We have huge concerns about sending all this money in the name of fighting climate change if the land rights for people living there are not resolved. It could cause more violence, benefit only a wealthy elite and lead to even greater carbon emissions.

"We think it would be a terrible mistake to reduce development funding purely to carbon and mitigating climate change. This poses a real dilemma for governments of conscience like the UK. They risk undermining all of their development and human rights work in this area if efforts to protect carbon don't support and strengthen community land rights and organisations."

Two reports from the Rights and Resources Initiative, published today, show that progress on land rights has slowed in recent years. The group says just 27% of developing-country forest is owned by local communities, or designated for their use. It warns that the next two decades could see the remaining forests threatened by the "last great global land grab", with booming demand for land to grow food, biofuels and wood products.

White said more effort was needed to map remote forests and register the people who live there to protect their interests. "We know how to do this. It's not rocket science, it just needs to be scaled up." He praised steps Britain has taken in the Congo basin.

Gareth Thomas, green minister at the Department for International Development, said: "We don't spend money on any project if we can't be certain that the money is going to go where it is needed. But we have to step up work on land-use management, ownership issues and improving governance. We have made quite a lot of progress, but it is not realistic that we can sort out every land use issue by the time of the next climate treaty."

James Heneage, the director of the Prince's Rainforests Project, a group set up by the Prince of Wales to work out a mechanism to fund forest protection, said a focus on land rights risked delaying efforts to protect the climate. He said: "The issue of land rights is important and must be looked at, but it is also an intractable problem and will take time to solve. We are in a state of emergency with climate change and we cannot allow the issue of land rights to delay getting serious amounts of money into forests to stop deforestation."

Global warming: Melting ice threatens Arctic foxes

Arctic fox

Out in the cold ... an Arctic fox blends into the snow. Photograph: Getty

Polar bears may not be the only Arctic wildlife threatened by global warming. Scientists have discovered that Arctic foxes also struggle as the ice disappears because they rely on the frozen seas to survive the bleak winters.

Researchers tracked the movements of 14 young foxes as they faced their first Arctic winter in northern Alaska, where the temperature plunges to -30C and it is dark for 24 hours a day. Only three animals survived the winter, by wandering hundreds of miles across the frozen sea ice looking for seal carcasses left by polar bears. The 11 foxes that remained on the mainland perished.

The scientists said taking to the ice could help foxes survive because there were fewer predators and food was easier to find than on land. But they said the discovery raised new concerns over the foxes' survival in the face of diminishing Arctic ice cover. Sea ice in the Arctic region, formed from frozen seawater, has shrunk dramatically in recent years and could reach a new record low this summer.

Experts said this week that this year's ice melt season has started sooner than usual.

Nathan Pamperin, a scientist at the department of biology and wildlife at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the Arctic fox study, said: "With reduced access to sea ice, it is possible that, in the years when foxes would normally travel on the ice, they may face tougher conditions on land, and possibly lower survival."

He said it was known that Arctic foxes use sea ice - polar explorers have reported tracks close to the north pole - but that the team did not expect to see the animals spend so long on the ice so far from the coast.

The three foxes using the sea ice to survive the winter spent up to five months there, travelling up to 1,700 miles.

Pamperin said: "More research needs to be done to really understand how important the ice is from year to year."

Publishing the study in the journal Polar Biology, the researchers said: "Concerns about the effects of diminishing Arctic ice extent to polar bear populations have received much attention recently ... If future populations of Arctic foxes lose access to sea ice, the primary negative effects would likely be reduced winter survival and reproduction."

The fox is not as threatened as the polar bear, they said, because the fox could switch to foraging on land more easily. This could drive them into human settlements, "increasing the potential for human-wildlife conflicts".

ClimatePULSE: Who owns these greenhouse gas emissions?

rom: , Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate


Protocols for corporate greenhouse gas accounting that are based on the ISO 14064 standards, such as the WBCSD/WRI GHG Protocol, use the term "scope" to distinguish between different greenhouse gas emissions sources. There are three categories; Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3. For most registry’s or reporting agencies Scopes 1 and 2 are considered mandatory while Scope 3 is considered optional.

Scope 1 emissions, also known as direct emissions, include any emissions that occur on-site or from company-owned assets. This includes the combustion of fuels, process emissions, and refrigerant leakage. These emissions are aggregated on a facility-level, with the company's vehicle fleet considered as one "facility."

Scope 2 emissions, also known as indirect emissions, include any emissions created directly on behalf of the company in the generation of electricity or the delivery of energy via hot water or steam. The reason for accepting responsibility for these emissions is because the company has ultimate control over “turning on the light switch” and they directly benefit from it. Under California's AB-32 Global Warming Solutions Act utility companies are regulated based on all of their emissions, including those from electricity that is sold to consumers. This results in double-counting in terms of the regulated utility emissions and non-regulated Scope 2, company-based emissions from their electricity use. However, regulating the aggregated emissions at a utility-level makes sense from a regulatory perspective and quantifying indirect greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use makes sense to individual companies because it is so closely tied to cost-saving efforts from energy efficiency projects. This example should start to demonstrate how complicated GHG legislation can become when ownership of emissions is itself a difficult concept to grasp.

The final scope, Scope 3, is a catch-all for remaining emissions that result from the activities of the company. While some protocols recommend Scope 3 emissions sources worth including, what is ultimately included is entirely optional. Many companies choose not to account for and report their Scope 3 emissions and most that do only include emissions from business travel. Some potential emissions sources that can fall under Scope 3 are the shipping of goods (inbound and outbound), emissions from contracted activities (outsourced production, etc.), and even the emissions from resource extraction and product disposal.

This cradle-to-grave analysis, while uncommon, is highly valuable. Most of the emissions that occur in a company’s value chain are either upstream or downstream of the company. It’s straight-forward to see the benefit that a company gets from calculating emissions sources throughout its supply chain, including Scope 3 sources. Because of the close correlation between emissions and fossil fuel use understanding a company's upstream emissions helps to understand its exposure to risk from volatility in the global energy markets. Downstream emissions; emissions from the distribution, use, and disposal of products are also important to understand.

However, from a regulated point of view, what happens when a company’s distribution contractors are also regulated? One company’s Scope 3 emissions become another company’s Scope 1 emissions — once again, the threat of double-counting emerges. This is the main reason that Scope 3 emissions are voluntary.

From an environmental perspective the benefit of quantifying greenhouse gas emissions is clear, but the economic benefits are also becoming clear. At ClimateCHECK we strongly believe in this double dividend approach and we guiding our clients through this valuable activity, which often includes a detailed understanding of all 3 emissions Scopes. More and more companies are turning the threat of looming climate change legislation into an opportunity by acting early, getting ahead of their competition, and encouraging optimization throughout the supply chain.


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