Monday, August 25, 2008

Whaling under fire as Norway catches only 50% of its quota

· Fisherman deny whale meat market has collapsed
· Oil price blamed for restricted hunt

Minke whale

A minke whale is hauled onboard a Norwegian whaling ship in this file photograph from 1999. Photograph: John Cunningham/Getty

Norway will not catch enough whales to meet its quota this year, in what environmentalists are claiming is proof that the nation should abandon the activity completely.

Since the whaling season started on April 1, fishermen have caught around half the number of animals allowed by the authorities – 533 common minke whales out of a quota of 1,052.

The season ends on August 31 and fishermen recognise they will fall short. "I don't think we will do it," said Bjoern-Hugo Bendiksen, chairman of the Norwegian Whalers' Union.

Conservation groups say the catch came short because Norwegians' taste for the mammal has declined. "This shows that people don't want to eat whale meat anymore. The market is not there," said Truls Gulowsen from Greenpeace. "The Norwegian government should stop supporting a dying industry and apply the 1986 international moratorium on whaling."

Fishermen deny that falling demand is behind the low catch. "We were able to meet the quota in the two best areas for whaling, around [the Arctic archipelago of] Svalbard" and along the northern coast of Norway, explained Bendiksen, who caught 23 animals this season.

Instead, Bendiksen claims boats have intentionally avoided the hunting areas that are further away, such as the waters around Jan Mayen, an island 600 miles west of the Norwegian mainland. "Only one boat went there this season. It's a long, dangerous trip and it's very expensive because of the increased fuel costs. So it's not worth the risk," he said.

According to official regulations fishermen have three weeks from the moment they catch a whale to deliver it to a processing plant onshore. But "processing plants don't have enough capacity to deal with the meat," thus limiting how much whalers can catch, claims Bendiksen.

Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993, despite an international moratorium put in place in 1986 to protect the species from extinction. Only one other nation, Iceland, has followed suit, in 2006. Japan allows whaling for scientific reasons, although a large number of whale steaks are found in fish markets every year.

Norway's whale catches have been declining in recent years. In 2004 fishermen hunted 639 animals from a total quota of 796. Last year they caught just 597, out of a quota of 1,052 – the highest quota allowed since 1993. Around 30 ships were involved in this year's hunting season.

Conservationists have long argued that all forms of whale hunting should be banned because it is cruel and stocks are too low for hunting to be sustainable. But Norway defies the ban because whaling "has high political status, even though it's a marginal industry," according to Gulowsen.

"It's a symbolic issue for the government, a way to show its independence from the international community when it comes to controlling its natural resources," he said.

For many Norwegians, especially for those living in the Arctic north where whaling is considered a normal economic activity, eating whale is as ordinary as eating cod or salmon. Whale steaks are available at supermarkets and are served in restaurants.

Norway hunts only one type of whale, the common minke whale, which is considered as "threatened with extinction" according to Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which bans its international trade.

The common minke whale is viewed as "near threatened" according to the Red List of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the second lowest step on its "Red List", its classification of endangered species. In August, the IUCN said common minke whales, along with other big whales, were slowly recovering from the threat of extinction thanks to the 1986 moratorium.

Climate change is not anarchy's football

In seeking to put politics ahead of action, Ewa Jasiewicz is engaging in magical thinking of the most desperate kind

-George Monbiot

If you want a glimpse of how the movement against climate change could crumble faster than a summer snowflake, read Ewa Jasiewicz's article, published yesterday on Comment is free. It is a fine example of the identity politics that plagued direct action movements during the 1990s, and from which the new generation of activists has so far been mercifully free.

Jasiewicz rightly celebrates the leaderless, autonomous model of organising that has made this movement so effective. The two climate camps I have attended – this year and last – were among the most inspiring events I've ever witnessed. I am awed by the people who organised them, who managed to create, under extraordinary pressure, safe, functioning, delightful spaces in which we could debate the issues and plan the actions which thrust Heathrow and Kingsnorth into the public eye. Climate camp is a tribute to the anarchist politics that Jasiewicz supports.

But in seeking to extrapolate from this experience to a wider social plan, she makes two grave errors. The first is to confuse ends and means. She claims to want to stop global warming, but she makes that task 100 times harder by rejecting all state and corporate solutions. It seems to me that what she really wants to do is to create an anarchist utopia, and to use climate change as an excuse to engineer it.

Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim. Everyone in this movement knows that there is very little time: the window of opportunity in which we can prevent two degrees of warming is closing fast. We have to use all the resources we can lay hands on, and these must include both governments and corporations. Or perhaps she intends to build the installations required to turn the energy economy around – wind farms, wave machines, solar thermal plants in the Sahara, new grid connections and public transport systems – herself?

Her article is a terrifying example of the ability some people have to put politics first and facts second when confronting the greatest challenge humanity now faces. The facts are as follows. Runaway climate change is bearing down on us fast. We require a massive political and economic response to prevent it. Governments and corporations, whether we like it or not, currently control both money and power. Unless we manage to mobilise them, we stand a snowball's chance in climate hell of stopping the collapse of the biosphere. Jasiewicz would ignore all these inconvenient truths because they conflict with her politics.

"Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power", she asserts, "will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the 'solution', we need a revolution." So before we are allowed to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions, we must first overthrow all governments and corporations and replace them with autonomous communities of happy campers. All this must take place within a couple of months, as there is so little time in which we could prevent two degrees of warming. This is magical thinking of the most desperate kind. If I were an executive of E.ON or Exxon, I would be delighted by this political posturing, as it provides a marvellous distraction from our real aims.

To support her argument, Jasiewicz misrepresents what I said at climate camp. She claims that I "confessed not knowing where to turn next to solve the issues of how to generate the changes necessary to shift our sources of energy, production and consumption". I confessed nothing of the kind. In my book Heat, I spell out what is required to bring about a 90% cut in emissions by 2030. Instead I confessed that I don't know how to solve the problem of capitalism without resorting to totalitarianism.

The issue is that capitalism involves lending money at interest. If you lend at 5%, then one of two things must happen. Either the money supply must increase by 5%, or the velocity of circulation must increase by 5%. In either case, if this growth is not met by a concomitant increase in the supply of goods and services, it becomes inflationary and the system collapses. But a perpetual increase in the supply of goods and services will eventually destroy the biosphere. So how do we stall this process? Even when usurers were put to death and condemned to perpetual damnation, the practice couldn't be stamped out. Only the communist states managed it, through the extreme use of the state control Jasiewicz professes to hate. I don't yet have an answer to this conundrum. Does she?

Yes, let us fight both corporate power and the undemocratic tendencies of the state. Yes, let us try to crack the problem of capitalism and then fight for a different system. But let us not confuse this task with the immediate need to stop two degrees of warming, or allow it to interfere with the carbon cuts that have to begin now.

Jasiewicz's second grave error is to imagine that society could be turned into a giant climate camp. Anarchism is a great means of organising a self-elected community of like-minded people. It is a disastrous means of organising a planet. Most anarchists envisage their system as the means by which the oppressed can free themselves from persecution. But if everyone is to be free from the coercive power of the state, this must apply to the oppressors as well as the oppressed. The richest and most powerful communities on earth – be they geographical communities or communities of interest – will be as unrestrained by external forces as the poorest and weakest. As a friend of mine put it, "when the anarchist utopia arrives, the first thing that will happen is that every Daily Mail reader in the country will pick up a gun and go and kill the nearest hippy".

This is why, though both sides furiously deny it, the outcome of both market fundamentalism and anarchism, if applied universally, is identical. The anarchists' associate with the oppressed, the market fundamentalists with the oppressors. But by eliminating the state, both remove such restraints as prevent the strong from crushing the weak. Ours is not a choice between government and no government. It is a choice between government and the mafia.

Over the past year I have been working with groups of climate protesters who have changed my view of what could be achieved. Most of them are under 30, and they bring to this issue a clear-headedness and pragmatism that I have never encountered in direct action movements before. They are prepared to take extraordinary risks to try to defend the biosphere from the corporations, governments and social trends which threaten to make it uninhabitable. They do so for one reason only: that they love the world and fear for its future. It would be a tragedy if, through the efforts of people like Jasiewicz, they were to be diverted from this urgent task into the identity politics that have wrecked so many movements.

Beauty spots to be devoured by sea

National Trust warns of losing battle to save much-loved coastal landmarks from rising sea levels and erosion

Farne Islands, Northumberland

Farne Islands, Northumberland. Photograph: Steve Allen Travel Photography/Getty Images

Some of Britain's most famous coastal landmarks will be radically changed or even lost because it is no longer possible to hold back rising seas and coastal erosion, according to the National Trust.

The castle of St Michael's Mount off the coast of Cornwall, the white cliffs of Birling Gap in East Sussex, Studland beach in Dorset and the dunes of Formby, near Liverpool, are among the places which could alter dramatically. In one of the most extreme cases to be identified by the trust, the entire 18th-century fishing village of Porthdinllaen on the north-west coast of Wales could be left to crumble into the sea.

The report on the 10 coastal hotspots will be published this week to highlight the problems of climate change which threaten about 70 sites around the coastline owned by the trust.

Phil Dyke, the National Trust's coast and marine adviser, said the decision to stop protecting many coastal areas was driven by the rising cost of damage, because global warming is causing more sea-level rises and more intense storms which exacerbate erosion, and because protection measures often cause damage farther along the coast, for example, depriving nearby beaches of shingle and sand. On one site in Cornwall the trust estimated it would cost £6m to build defences which would only last about 25 years.

The report highlights the difficult decisions which will have to be taken across Britain and around the world as landowners and governments decide how to cope with the impact of climate change on habitats and built infrastructure, particularly after a tradition of pitting engineers against natural change.

'Over the next 100 years the shape of our coastline will change, and our favourite seaside destinations may not look the way they were captured in our holiday snapshots,' said Dyke. 'I think we have a natural affinity with our coast and the sea. But we all need to be aware that our environment is not fixed and that change is inevitable.'

Three years ago a separate report by the National Trust warned that more than half the charity's coastline was under threat and up to 10,000 acres could be lost to the sea in the next century, but the full impact of the problem had not been fully appreciated.

The 10 case studies in the report include three residential areas: at Birling Gap in Sussex one cottage has already been demolished and the remaining four will eventually be lost as the soft chalk cliffs erode by a metre a year; residents on St Michael's Mount, near Penzance, could lose their low-tide causeway permanently and have to move to homes higher above the tide-line; and the 16 houses and inn of Porthdinllaen on the Lleyn peninsula are likely to be lost because more stormy weather will bring more flooding and landslides, says the trust.

Other risk areas identified are the puffin and seal colonies on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast; the shingle spit of East Head at the entrance to Chichester Harbour in West Sussex, which will also affect nearby West Wittering beach; Dorset's Studland beach, which is visited by more than one million people a year; the dune system of Formby, near Liverpool; the shingle spit and marshes of Blakeney national nature reserve in Norfolk; the sweeping sands of Rhossili on the Gower peninsula in Wales where a sand-covered medieval village is also being lost to the sea; and Northern Ireland's Portstewart Strand beach and dunes.

In many cases the trust is investing in visitor centres and paths to keep access to the coast, but Dyke said that the trust wanted government to do more to help affected communities, especially property owners.

UN climate talks split over deforestation funds

From: , The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), More from this Affiliate


A 160-nation U.N. climate conference in Ghana split on Friday over ways to pay poor countries to slow deforestation, blamed for producing up to 20 percent of the greenhouse gases caused by human activities.

Options suggested for raising billions of dollars in incentives include markets that would allow trading in the carbon dioxide locked up in trees, higher aid from rich nations and levies on airline tickets or on international shipping.

"It's important that we get to grips with this," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters during the Aug. 21-27 meeting of 1,500 delegates.

"For many developing countries, avoiding deforestation is pretty much the only way they can engage in the climate change regime and reap some benefits," he said of schemes meant to slow logging and burning of forests to clear land for farming.

A U.N. climate conference in Bali last year agreed to explore ways to pay people in the developing world to leave forests standing -- trees soak up carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they rot or are burned.

The Accra meeting is working on details as part of a plan to agree a sweeping new U.N. climate treaty by the end of 2009 to avert heatwaves, droughts, more powerful storms, risks of more disease and rising sea levels.

"We think this is particularly relevant to Africa. We want this next climate regime to benefit Africa," said Brice Lalonde of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union. France holds the rotating EU presidency.

He said the EU was willing to consider extra aid or to work out new forms of carbon trading. The European parliament voted this year to auction 15 percent of emissions from aviation and use proceeds for measures such as slowing deforestation.


"We shall perhaps see a new dawn for tropical forests," Lalonde said.

The Pacific island of Tuvalu, threatened by rising seas, said a levy of $20 a tonne on emissions of carbon dioxide from all international aviation and maritime transport would generate revenues of about $24 billion a year.

"A levy of that level is about 0.6 percent of an airfare price," said Ian Fry of Tuvalu. Slowing economic growth in many nations, along with high food and fuel prices, makes it harder to find cash for forest protection.

Friends of the Earth environmental group said there were risks that an inflow of funds would push up the value of forests and lead to a land grab by foreign investors that could threaten the rights of indigenous peoples on the land.

But some developing nations said partnerships with business were inevitable.

"This is about rural communities and indigenous peoples. This is about business. We have got to bring communities and the private sector together," said Kevin Conrad of Papua New Guinea, speaking on behalf of about 20 tropical nations.

De Boer played down worries about "carbon colonialism", saying that measures to protect forests seemed to be in the interests of local people who were dependent on the range of species of animals and plants found in forests.

Submerged Ghana forest may point to timber bonanza

From: Reuters


Logging of a Ghanaian forest submerged 40 years ago by a hydroelectric dam could point to an underwater timber bonanza worth billions of dollars in tropical countries, a senior Ghanaian official said on Monday.

Exploiting submerged rot-resistant hardwoods such as ebony, wawa or odum trees in Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in Africa, can also slow deforestation on land and curb emissions of greenhouse gases linked to burning of forests.

"Logging will start in October," Robert Bamfo, head of Climate Change at the government's Forestry Commission, told Reuters on the sidelines of a U.N. August 21-27 climate conference in Accra. "This will reduce the pressure on our forests."

"The project aims to harvest 14 million cubic meters (494.4 million cu ft) of timber worth about $4 billion," he said.

Logging will be led by a privately owned Canadian company, CSR Developments, which says it aims to invest $100 million in Ghana. Cutting equipment can be mounted on barges, guided by sonars to grab trees below water.

"There are very similar circumstances in numerous countries around the world including Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Brazil, Surinam, Malaysia and others," Bamfo said of forgotten forests swamped by hydroelectric dams.

"The potential is there -- they are awaiting to see the outcome of the Ghana project," he said.

He told the conference there were estimates that there were "5 million hectares (12.36 million acres) of salvageable submerged timber in the hydroelectric reservoirs in the tropics with the potential to supplement global demand for timber."

"The trees are still strong," Bamfo said, even though they had been under water since construction of the Akosombo Dam in the 1960s. Harvesting would cost more than on land but was still commercial because of the value of the timber.


In some shallower parts of the lake, covering an area of 850,000 hectares (2.1 million acres), thousands of trunks jut several meters out of the water. The lake is 90 meters (300 ft) deep at its deepest with a mean depth of 19 meters.

"Boat collisions with submerged tree stumps cause many fatalities every year," Bamfo said.

In the 1960s, no one saw a need to fell the trees as the lake rose. "Maybe at the time we thought we had enough timber in our forest estates to sustain us. Now, because of the decline, we need to diversify."

Ghana is being deforested at a rate of about 1.9 percent a year.

The U.N. conference is looking at ways to slow deforestation, blamed by U.N. surveys for emitting almost 20 percent of greenhouse gases from human activities. Trees soak up carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when burnt or when they rot.

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

Environment agency warns government over climate change damage



Lord Smith, the new head of the Environment Agency, this week gave a cautionary warning to the government over the folly of continuing with climate damaging super projects like the third runway at Heathrow, and the proposed new coal power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. He also highlighted the threat that climate change induced sea level rises and coastal erosion will have on the UK’s coast line and that tough choices would have to be made over whether to defend threatened communities.

The World Development Movement has also put two and two together; stating that plans for a new coal power plant are completely incompatible with plans to tackle climate change. And that huge areas of Kent’s coastline will be seriously threatened by predicted sea level rises, demonstrating the sad irony of stationing a new carbon belching coal power station in the very same area.

Millions of people all over the world are already suffering as a result of climate change. It is usually the poorest people who are left most vulnerable to increasingly severe weather phenomena such as typhoons and flooding. For coastal communities in the UK, Bangladesh, the Philippines and across the globe, whose homes, jobs and unfortunately lives are threatened, the government must be resolute in its ambition to tackle climate change. It cannot be, or even give the illusion of, being serious about this if it says yes to new runways and new coal power stations.


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