Friday, February 6, 2009

Greenwash: Dirty claims on clean coal

The Scottish government is talking up the world's dirtiest fossil fuel as clean in its push to revive its coal industry

Fred Pearce

guardian.co.uk,

Clean coal in Gillette, Wyoming

Scotland has one-tenth of Europe's coal. Photograph: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The Scottish government is planning to green its electricity generation by burning more coal. Yes, you read that right. Coal is green, say ministers in Edinburgh, who in December announced a climate policy that they declared to be the world's most advanced.

And if you can't get your head round that, you are not alone. Nasa's famed climate scientist, Jim Hansen, last week wrote an open letter to the first minister Alex Salmond declaring the policy a "sham".

Should anyone south of the border, or indeed on another continent, care? Well, yes. Later this year, Britain's climate change minister, Ed Miliband,will go to Copenhagen, to sign up to tough new targets on cutting national emissions of greenhouse gases. And that includes Scottish emissions – over which neither Miliband nor anybody in Whitehall seems to have any control. That may mess up the UK's bargaining position - although with the UK government backing the new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, they are making a good job of that themselves. More importantly though, the atmosphere does not care which country the CO2 comes from or where the coal that produced it was burned. Scotland has one-tenth of Europe's coal and Salmond seems hell-bent on digging it up and setting it alight.

In December, Salmond and his ministers published a climate change bill that promises to cut Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. He does promise more renewable energy, but the push to revive Scotland's coal industry and build new coal-burning power stations is the talk of Edinburgh and a massive snub to a truly green energy policy - which since Scotland has spectacular potential for wind and wave power is indefensible.

The greenwash comes when Salmond and his ministers ape industry propaganda by talking up the world's dirtiest fossil fuel as "clean coal". Take what happened two years ago. Scottish Power announced plans to extend the life of the country's two existing coal-fired stations, at Longannet and Cockenzie, which provide a third of Scotland's electricity. Scottish Power, which is owned by a Spanish company, claimed it wanted to convert the two plants to "clean coal technology".

The new turbines and boilers would cut carbon dioxide emissions by about one-fifth, which its chairman Ignacio Galan claimed would be "a revolutionary change in low-carbon energy generation in Scotland."

Salmond agreed. He used the launch to declare: "Coal is king ... If you can use clean-coal technology, coal has a dynamic future. It means coal, far from being environmentally unacceptable, is becoming environmentally attractive."

This is crazy. Cutting emissions by a fifth still leaves coal as the dirtiest fuel. And Scottish Power's "clean coal" plan will almost certainly result in the two plants emitting more carbon dioxide in the long run, because it will extend their lifetimes. Environmentally attractive? I think not.

Probably what Salmond had in mind was an entirely different technology known as carbon-capture and storage (CCS). The idea of this is to take CO2 emitted from power plants and bury it in old coal mines or beneath the North Sea. The technology is not being fitted at the two plants, or anywhere else. It is a technology in the early stages of development and Scottish Coal agrees it is "some years away".

Salmond's planned new policy on energy, recently out for consultation, will require any future coal power stations to be ready to capture carbon dioxide – should the technology ever become available. That is all.

But let's not let the facts get in the way of a good greenwash. The push for coal in Scotland is big right now. Scottish withdrawal symptoms over the decline of its oil are palpable. Scottish Coal's new chief executive said this week that there were "perhaps billions of tonnes" of coal beneath Scotland. He wants his hands on it.

And Salmond is with him. Last autumn, he promised support for the opening of two new deep coal mines in the country at Canonbie and Longannet. His energy minister, Jim Mather, said "Scotland has huge coal reserves which, alongside our renewables potential, could meet Scotland's electricity needs for many years to come."

In November, the government also applauded plans from a Danish power company, Dong Energy, to build Scotland a third coal-fired plant, at Hunterston. It will be "ready to incorporate carbon capture and storage".

That is what finally did it for Hansen, who is campaigning for a global ban on new coal-fired power stations. "Carbon capture and storage readiness is not an adequate solution. It is a sham that does not guarantee that a single tonne of carbon will be captured in practice," his letter to Salmond said.

It is not the usual policy of this column to attack political parties. They are entitled to their policies. But the clean coal mantra is being repeated with so little regard for the facts that it demands to be challenged every time.

Introducing the new climate change bill in December, Scotland's climate change minister Stewart Stevenson said it "shows that Scotland is at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change."

The truth is that while President Obama is promising green jobs, first minister Salmond is promising black jobs. Last word to Hansen: "The decision to phase out coal use unless the CO2 is captured fully from the outset is a global imperative. We cannot avert our eyes. We must solve the coal problem now."

• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please email your examples of greenwash to greenwash@guardian.co.uk or add your comments below

'Strong arm' tactics to get India to agree to strict emissions cuts criticised

China and India signal opposition to binding limits on emissions as UN secretary general says developing world 'must do more'

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon speaks during the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. Photograph: STR/EPA

Environmentalists have strongly criticised attempts to "strong arm" developing countries such as India into a binding commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions after the United Nations secretary general asked poorer nations to "get on board" with the industrialised world to find solutions to the climate crisis.

Ban Ki-moon told the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit that although "Brazil has been taking a quite proactive role in the implementation of biofuel and forestation policies. China and India have also taken steps. But that is not enough, they have to do more."

The UN's top official said that climate change was a "common and shared" responsibility and that the time for arguments about who caused and contributed to global warming was over.

"We should not argue who is more responsible, who is less responsible, who should do more… This is a common, shared responsibility," Ban said.

There appears a global consensus over the impact of global warming. Wheat yields are down, water is becoming scarcer and the frequency and severity of floods and droughts are increasing. Ban's clarion call in Delhi comes in a year which will end with a deadline to negotiate a global treaty to combat climate change. The current phase of the Kyoto protocol runs out in 2012.

But talks have run aground as industrialised countries have refused to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions unless emerging economies such as China and India commit to an emissions cap.

Both India and China, which have per capita emissions that are a fraction of the west, have pointed out the Kyoto protocol was supposed to mean emission reduction targets of 5% by 2012 but between 1990 and 2005, emissions had increased. In fact, US emissions have increased 20% during that period.

Earlier this week Chinese prime minister Wen Jiaobao said in an interview that it was "difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference, because this country is still at an early stage of development… Europe started its industrialisation several hundred years ago, but for China, it has only been dozens of years."

India has also signalled its strong opposition to binding limits on emissions. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has said that India would be willing to undertake to keep its per capita emissions below those of industrialised countries, thus giving the latter a strong incentive to reduce their emissions as quickly as possible.

The Centre for Science and Environment, an influential thinktank based in Delhi, has also pointed out that "the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was built up over centuries in the process of creating nations' wealth. This is the natural debt of nations, and they must pay up."

Others criticised the United Nations for foisting an "ineffectual" Clean Development Mechanism on the developing world, which aims to allow rich nations claim credit for emissions reductions they fund in poorer nations. Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, said that India needed "no lectures from the west which has been polluting (for decades). We have also looked at the UN and seen the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) as completely inefficient. We have seen no new technology being used in India and no benefit to anyone but big companies."

However, the United Nation's top climate change official Yvo de Boer told reporters that to get developing countries to sign up for emission limits public money from the wealthy world would be needed to fund climate change action programmes.

In December the UN said said $86bn £59bn a year will be needed by 2015 for poor countries to adapt to global warming but admitted that it was struggling to raise even the fund's administration costs of $4m.

The Indian prime minister's advisers on climate change told the Guardian that countries such as Britain were "pushing hard" for India to adopt experimental technologies and using cash as an incentive. "They have been pushing Carbon Capture and Storage. But these are not proven technologies. What happens if the gas leaks out and causes deaths?"

US regulators vote to ban commercial fishing in Arctic waters

• Plan covers 200,000-square-mile area off Alaskan coast
• New rules will be forwarded to US commerce department

Spurred by global warming concerns in the US Arctic, a federal fishery council yesterday established a moratorium on commercial seafood harvests in a vast zone off Alaska's northern coast.

In a unanimous vote in Seattle, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved the plan in response to the dramatic retreat of summertime ice in Arctic waters.

The plan covers a nearly 200,000-square-mile area stretching from the Bering Strait waters near Russia to the US maritime boundary with the Canadian Arctic. The plan will be forwarded to the US commerce department for final approval, and would be a boost to state department efforts to negotiate similar fishing closures off the Arctic coasts of Canada and the Russian Far East.

There are currently no commercial harvests in the federal waters of the US Arctic, which stretch from 3 to as far as 200 miles offshore through the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

But many believe that pressures to fish those areas will increase in the years ahead if warming waters cause a migration there of pollock and other species that now sustain major harvests farther south in the Bering Sea.

"The rate of change in the Arctic is fairly well understood," said David Benton, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, which represents commercial fishing groups, processors and Alaska communities. "What is not understood is the way that it's going to affect the marine environment and the Arctic people." The council is a mix of federal, state and industry officials who help set the rules guiding north Pacific commercial harvests, which are the largest in North America.

Their plan would not impose a permanent ban on commercial fishing. Fishing would be allowed only if additional surveys indicate harvests could be sustainable and not harm the broader marine ecosystem.

"This is a precautionary approach," said Eric Olson, a native Alaskan who chairs the federal council. "It's protective. It lays out a framework for fisheries development in the Arctic."

The summer ice pack retreated to its lowest level on record in 2007, and last summer marked the second-smallest ice pack. Climate scientists expect that global warming, caused by the buildup of greenhouse-gas emissions in the atmosphere, will cause the melting of the summer ice pack in Arctic waters by about 2030.

There have been relatively few surveys of fishery stocks in the US Arctic. The latest effort was last summer, when federal fisheries scientists in Seattle chartered a fishing vessel for a three-week cruise. The top species found in the survey included Arctic cod, a fish that is important for Arctic marine birds and mammals, and snow crab, according to Elizabeth Logerwell, the lead federal biologist.

The survey nets also caught small amounts of pollock, Pacific cod and Bering flounder, three commercial fish Logerwell said were not noted in a 1977 survey. Small numbers of the species might have always inhabited the waters, or they may have migrated north in recent decades as summer ocean ice retreated.

The plan's passage reflects an unusual consensus between the fishing industry and conservationists. Jim Ayers, vice president of the environmental group Oceana, called the plan a "model for management of the Arctic Ocean". He said he found common ground with industry officials in numerous late-night conversations fueled by coffee and whiskey shots.

The plan also has garnered support from native Alaskans in the Arctic. They are wary of the impacts of a large-scale commercial harvest upon whales, seals and other marine life that support their subsistence harvests.

But there is interest in the king crab that now congregate in federal waters off Kotzebue in north-west Alaska. If surveys indicate a sustainable harvest is possible, officials of the regional borough would like to leave that option open for a local fleet.

State department officials say they already are discussing ocean conservation measures in other Arctic areas.

Hungry caterpillars spread misery in West Africa

From: AlertNet

GBOLUMUE, Liberia, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Martha Kermel holds out rail-thin arms covered with a latticework of scratches from her encounter with a plague of caterpillars that has devastated crops and spread fear through this corner of West Africa.


"They scratched my arms when they moved," said Kermel, a mother of four, telling how the small creatures poured down onto her from the tree branches overhead as she set out from her village to a rice farm cultivated by her community in Liberia.


That was two weeks ago. Now the millions of caterpillars which covered the road and nearby bushes have retreated into cocoons, or hatched already into moths ready to spawn a new generation of grubs here or further afield.


The insects can travel up to 60 miles (100 km) a day, and have already crossed the border to Guinea, an agriculturally rich country and the source of many of Liberia's food imports.
That has set alarm bells ringing in neighbouring Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower and an important producer of coffee, rubber, palm oil and other cash crops.
The creatures were first thought to be army worms, a moth caterpillar, but they were identified this week as the young of another kind of moth, the Achaea catocaloides, which are also known to damage cocoa and other tree crops.


For the time being, the moths are headed north, and experts in Ivory Coast said this week they should avoid Ivory Coast's valuable cocoa belt, which produces about 40 percent of world supply.


But they remain a risk to Ivory Coast's central borderlands, which produce around 100,000 tonnes of cocoa and 70,000 tonnes of robusta coffee a year.

THREAT
For Kermel, the threat is more immediate.


She and her family, subsistence farmers like most people in the area, live 10 miles (16 km) south of the border with Guinea and 45 minutes by foot from the nearest passable road.
When the bugs attacked, Kermel had nowhere to go, and worried about feeding her children.


She said the "kotin", as locals call the pests, fouled the creek near her home with their faeces, turning the water black.

Every day since then, she and her children have had to walk several miles to the main road to gather water at a borehole.

The Liberian governent has said the caterpillars are threatening the food security of 350,000 people, and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared a national state of emergency.
Jewel Howard Taylor, a senator who was married to Charles Taylor, a former president and warlord in Liberia's devastating 1989-2003 civil war who is now on trial for war crimes, donated 150 bags of rice and tarpaulins, clothes and blankets.


That kind of help will be insignificant if the moths continue to spread and multiply.


The infestation may be linked to a long rainy season, cold weather at the start of the year, or climate change and deforestation forcing caterpillars to seek food elsewhere, scientists and Liberian ministry officials said this week.


"I think this is a seasonal threat. From our experience in Benin, the moth will disappear by early or mid-March," Georg Goergen, an entomologist at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), told Reuters.


While the caterpillars feed on trees, adults belong to a group known as fruit-sucking moths for their penchant for piercing ripening fruit and sucking out the juice, often causing the fruit to rot and drop prematurely.


Spray teams, each member with a plastic tank of insecticide strapped to their back, have started work. But Jobson Momo, an agricultural programme officer in the town of Carey, said his team did not have enough pesticide, protective gear or vehicles.


The entire first wave of Liberia's caterpillars has now turned into moths. Scientists at the Ministry of Agriculture fear they are are now reproducing and could cause secondary and tertiary waves of infestations that, if uncontained, may destabilise an already volatile region.

"WAKE-UP CALL"
"This is a wake-up call, a call that gives neighbouring countries adequate time to mount an early warning system to detect and manage this problem," said Braima James, an IITA project manager.


Ivory Coast's National Centre for Agronomic Research has sent experts to Liberia to find out more about the caterpillars and see if any are headed towards their border.
Guinea, which borders both countries and is in a chaotic state after a December military coup, says a string of villages near the Liberian border is already infested.


"The equipment we have means we can only spray up to a height of 6 metres (yards), whereas some trees are 30 metres high. We absolutely must have air support," Sikoun Wague, spokesman for Guinea's Agriculture Ministry, told Reuters.


"These insects suck the sap from trees and leave tonnes of waste in channels and water courses, which are then unusable for two weeks," he said.
Across the border in Liberia, Kermel has, luckily, already harvested her rice crop. But while she and her relatives waited for the caterpillars to disperse, they should have been planting for the next season.


The delay could cause a weak yield next harvest.


John Kulah was less lucky. He had cropped his upland rice but lost all his swamp rice, which ripens later, to the bugs.

"They eat and eat and eat, so greedy," he said angrily.


"We have to farm to live," said Kulah, who has now slashed out a new field in the bush, well away from the dahoma trees which attract the caterpillars. With nine children to feed, he hopes the next wave of caterpillars doesn't come.


"What are we supposed to do then?" (Additional reporting by Saliou Samb in Conakry, Ange Aboa in Abidjan and David Lewis in Dakar; Editing by Alistair Thomson and Sara Ledwith)

Collapse Of Antarctic Ice Sheet Would Likely Put Washington, D.C. Largely Underwater

From: University of Toronto

University of Toronto and Oregon State University geophysicists have shown that should the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse and melt in a warming world — as many scientists are concerned it will — it is the coastlines of North America and of nations in the southern Indian Ocean that will face the greatest threats from rising sea levels.

The catastrophic increase in sea level, already projected to average between 16 and 17 feet around the world, would be almost 21 feet in such places as Washington, D.C., scientists say, putting it largely underwater. Many coastal areas would be devastated. Much of Southern Florida would disappear, according to researchers at Oregon State University.

“There is widespread concern that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be prone to collapse, resulting in a rise in global sea levels,”� says geophysicist Jerry X. Mitrovica, who, along with physics graduate student Natalya Gomez and Oregon State University geoscientist Peter Clark, are the authors of a new study to be published in the February 6 issue of the journal Science. “We’ve been able to calculate that not only will the rise in sea levels at most coastal sites be significantly higher than previously expected, but that the sea-level change will be highly variable around the globe,”� adds Gomez.

“Scientists are particularly worried about the ice sheet because it is largely marine-based, which means that the bedrock underneath most of the ice sits under sea level,”� says Mitrovica, director of the Earth System Evolution

Program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. “The West Antarctic is fringed by ice shelves which act to stabilize the ice sheet — these shelves are sensitive to global warming, and if they break up, the ice sheet will have a lot less impediment to collapse.”� This concern was reinforced further in a recent study led by Eric Steig of the University of Washington that showed that the entire region is indeed warming.

“The typical estimate of the sea-level change is five metres, a value arrived at by taking the total volume of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, converting it to water and spreading it evenly across the oceans, says Mitrovica. “However, this estimate is far too simplified because it ignores three significant effects:

  • when an ice sheet melts, its gravitational pull on the ocean is reduced and water moves away from it. The net effect is that the sea level actually falls within 2,000 km of a melting ice sheet, and rises progressively further away from it. If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses, sea level will fall close to the Antarctic and will rise much more than the expected estimate in the northern hemisphere because of this gravitational effect;
  • the depression in the Antarctic bedrock that currently sits under the weight of the ice sheet will become filled with water if the ice sheet collapses. However, the size of this hole will shrink as the region rebounds after the ice disappears, pushing some of the water out into the ocean, and this effect will further contribute to the sea-level rise;
  • the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will actually cause the Earth’s rotation axis to shift rather dramatically — approximately 500 metres from its present position if the entire ice sheet melts. This shift will move water from the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans northward toward North America and into the southern Indian Ocean.

“The net effect of all of these processes is that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses, the rise in sea levels around many coastal regions will be as much as 25 per cent more than expected, for a total of between six and seven metres if the whole ice sheet melts,”� says Mitrovica. “That’s a lot of additional water, particularly around such highly populated areas as Washington, D.C., New York City, and the California coastline.”�

Digital animation of what various sea-level rise scenarios might look like for up to six metres is athttp://www.cresis.ku.edu/research/data/sea_level_rise.

“There is still some important debate as to how much ice would actually disappear if the West Antarctic Ice sheet collapses — some fraction of the ice sheet may remain quite stable,”� he says. “But, whatever happens, our work shows that the sea-level rise that would occur at many populated coastal sites would be much larger than one would estimate by simply distributing the meltwater evenly. Any careful assessment of the sea-level hazard associated with the loss of major ice reservoirs must, of course, account for the sea-level fingerprint of other sources of meltwater, namely Greenland, the East Antarctic and mountain glaciers. The most important lesson is that scientists and policy makers should focus on projections that avoid simplistic assumptions.”�

The research was funded with support from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the US National Sciences Foundation

.

Demand for solar and wind power drops as banks stop financing related projects

From: World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Thursday - Wind and solar power grew at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate, especially in the United States under the green-minded administration of the new president, Barack Obama.

But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: Except in isolated markets, like China, installation of wind and solar power is slowing, and in some cases plummeting.

Factories building parts for these industries in the United States have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 percent to 50 percent declines this year in the installation of new equipment, a decrease that bars more help from the government

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

''I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,'' said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, North Dakota, where DMI Industries of Fargo operated a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Even though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20 percent of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous government tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Wind and solar developers have been left hunting for capital.

''It's absolutely frozen,'' said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.

The effects of the banking crisis were also being felt in Europe, although industry groups said it was too soon to tell what effect the credit freeze would have on the fast-growing sector.

''There are examples of smaller developers and independent power producers, relying on banking finance, that are affected by the general reluctance of banks to provide liquidity,'' Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association, wrote in an e-mail message. ''This may postpone some of these projects.''

He added that big utilities, which have large cash reserves to tide them over during the crisis, could emerge with more projects. ''We may see some of the smaller projects, which have turbine delivery contracts but are struck by the banking liquidity freeze, being taken over by the larger power companies,'' he said.

Solar experts also report that demand in Europe has softened, a combination of a seasonal slowdown for winter and a recent cap on solar installations in Spain.

''A large amount of product, much of it Chinese, remains unsold,'' and prices are dropping, Ray Noble, a photovoltaic specialist with the Britain-based Renewable Energy Association, wrote in an e-mail message.

China, a fast-growing wind market, has so far shown no signs of a slowdown, according to Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council.

''The government stimulus package targeted investment in grid infrastructure, which is an important part of maintaining the rapid growth of the Chinese industry,'' he wrote in an e-mail message. ''We are expecting another year of rapid growth in the Chinese wind market in 2009. In India, the picture is more complex, and varies state by state. It is too early to tell with the minor markets in Asia yet.''

In the United States, the two industries are hopeful that Obama's economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.

Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and SunPower, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the central United States, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.

Some big U.S.-based wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their plans for wind farms.

Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once-fast-growing wind and solar sectors.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project's costs. JPMorgan Chase, for example, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the bank's managing director for energy investments.

In the U.S. solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25 percent in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10 percent by midsummer.

For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60 percent of total installation costs.

After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure that they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, ''Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?''

The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.

On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.

Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money, the main task for the energy companies is to find new sources of investment capital.

In Europe, renewable energy incentives are structured differently, often through ''feed-in tariffs'' - a fixed-rate payment, set high, for electricity generated from renewable energy. Developers are guaranteed a good return to help defray the expensiveness of renewable projects.

Nick Medic, a spokesman for the British Wind Energy Association, wrote in an e-mail message that while Britain still had a ''healthy pipeline of projects'' and did not want to become reliant on government subsidies, ''it could perhaps be welcome for the Government to reassure lenders by underwriting loans, or act in a way that could encourage lenders to free up funds.''

Wind and solar companies have urged the U.S. Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.

''Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken,'' Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke, said. ''But it can help at the margins.''

Over the long term, with Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.

''You drive across the countryside and there's more and more wind farms going up,'' said Mattern of West Fargo. ''I still have big hopes.''

Taiwan coral reefs "turn black" with disease

From: Reuters

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Coral reefs off the southeast coast of Taiwan have turned black with disease possibly due to sewage discharge, threatening fragile undersea ecosystems and tourism, a study released Friday said.

The discovery on a problem long suspected but seldom documented shows that coral is suffering widely in waters up to five meters (16.4 feet) deep and 300 meters offshore from two outlying islands, said researcher Chen Chao-lun of Taiwan's state-funded Academia Sinica.

"This is a large distribution and we had no previous information," said Chen, whose began doing research with local environmental groups in 2007. "If you snorkel, you'll see it's black. If it's all black, there won't be too many tourists."

Coral reefs, delicate undersea structures resembling rocky gardens made by tiny animals called coral polyps, are important nurseries and shelters for fish and other sea life.

They also protect coastlines, provide a critical source of food for millions of people and are potential storehouses of medicines.

Taiwan's study did not pinpoint a cause for the diseased coral, but untreated sewage may a factor, Chen said.

On Green Island, a tourism hotspot and one the sites surrounded by diseased coral, garbage and excrement are dumped into the surrounding azure waters while reefs are often plundered by coral-robbing tourists, officials and long-time divers say.

The Taiwan researchers have sent their report to the government and plan to check for problems in other offshore areas known to support coral, Chen said.

Article Continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE5151HL20090206?feedType=RSS&feedName=environmentNews

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Indian Ocean linked to Australian droughts

From: Reuters

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Droughts in Australia have traditionally been linked to El Nino events in the Pacific Ocean, but a new study says the key driver of major droughts has been a warming and cooling cycle in the Indian Ocean.

The research shows Australia's major droughts over the past 120 years, including the Federation drought (1895-1902), the World War Two drought (1937-1945), and the present drought (post-1995), all coincide with fluctuations in ocean temperature known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) say their study explains why a series of La Nina weather events, which usually bring Pacific rains to Australia, have failed to break the current drought, the worst in 100 years.

When the IOD is in a negative phase it creates cool Indian Ocean water west of Australia and warm Timor Sea water to the north. This generates winds that pick up moisture from the ocean and sweep across southern Australia, delivering wet conditions.

In a positive phase, the pattern of Indian Ocean temperatures is reversed, weakening the winds and reducing the amount of moisture picked up and transported across Australia, said the study to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

"What we have found is that there has not been a single wet event, not a single negative event in the Indian Ocean Dipole since 1992," said Caroline Ummenhofer from the UNSW Climate Change Research Center, who led the research.

"That means all you are left with in southeast Australia is dry events. The cause of the "Big Dry," the current drought, is actually due to a lack of negative Indian Ocean Dipole events that remove the wet years from southeast Australia."

Article Continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE5133FL20090204?feedType=RSS&feedName=environmentNews

Bone-dry Bolinas - barometer for state?

The oceanside enclave in Marin County has enacted some of the state's toughest water restrictions. Each customer - with the exception of schools and some businesses - may use no more than 150 gallons a day, about 4,500 gallons each month.

A third violation of the order would allow the Bolinas Community Public Utility District to cut off water.

Without drastic cutbacks, officials say, the community of 1,200 could run out of water by the end of April. The town on the southern end of the Point Reyes Peninsula already is drawing from two emergency reservoirs, one of which is effectively empty.

"People are worried," said Jennifer Blackman, general manager of the utility district, which authorized the measures last week. "It's unsettling to be informed that a resource which is necessary to life is limited in this way."

Independent atmosphere

Bolinas, home to aging hippies, Hollywood celebrities, well-known artists and high-powered lawyers, has a decidedly eccentric, independent atmosphere. Residents often tear down road signs to misdirect tourists.

A self-contained water system and limited supply have kept the population steady for decades - which is fine by most folks there. But as California copes with what state officials fear could be the worst drought in 150 years, Bolinas' isolation has pushed its water system to the edge.

Drying reservoir

One look at the reservoir known as Woodrat II tells the tale. At this time of year, the town usually draws its water from the Arroyo Hondo Creek, leaving the reservoir full to the brim.

But with creek flows at a dribble, Bolinas started drawing from the reservoirs last year. Woodrat II's 40-foot-long banks now are dry and cracked. The water, which looks thick and sludgy, barely covers the outtake pipes. And storms forecast for this week aren't likely to boost water levels much.

"It's August out here," said Bill Pierce, chief water and wastewater operator for the utility district. "The hills are brown - they should be green. The stream flows are a trickle."

Almost every water agency in the state is suffering. Most reservoirs are at rock-bottom levels after two parched years and a third under way. Demand from cities has continued to grow, and recent environmental disputes have slashed pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which serves two-thirds of California.

Rationing elsewhere

In the Bay Area, the East Bay Municipal Utility District imposed rationing of 15 percent last year. This week, the Sonoma County Water Agency warned it might have to institute 30 to 50 percent cutbacks later this year.

Bolinas' rationing amounts to roughly 25 percent, down from an average of 208 gallons a day per customer or water hookup.

But its threat of service termination stands alone in the state and paints a particularly dire picture, said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

It's going to get bad

"People don't understand how bad this is going to get," Quinn said. "We've had eight droughts, some of them minor, in the 20th century. This is the first major drought in the 21st century."

With that in mind, Bolinas water staffers delivered rationing notices door to door this week in hopes of stretching the town's dwindling water supply until December. The notices spell out the process: On the first violation, customers will receive an official notice. After a second, the district may install a flow-restricting device. After that, water service may be disconnected.

Residents also are urged to water yards once a week and avoid washing sidewalks or cars with district-supplied water.

A need for speed

"We know we're going from zero to 60 here, that we're asking a lot," Blackman said. "But we feel we need to do it quickly. That's why we're trying to do so much outreach. We don't want to have to go to dramatic enforcement. We hope we can get there together."

Most residents seem to be on board, although a few questioned the late timing of the rationing (Blackman said unexpectedly dry conditions in November, December and January prompted the emergency).

"The cuts are a good thing," said Gerrund Bojeste, who was sitting in his dragon-inspired art car on Bolinas' commercial strip this week. "People need to create their own storage, be more frugal. You just can't keep running the water while you're brushing your teeth."

Bolinas has gotten the message about wasteful washing machines. Business at the local Laundromat, which has only high-efficiency washers, is on the rise, Blackman said, as more people move away from their top-loaders, which can use more than 40 gallons per load, compared with 15 gallons. The laundry has been granted a higher daily water limit.

Cafe cuts back

A few doors down, owners of the Coast Cafe are not offering tap water - diners must ask. Beverages that are served come in plastic-like glasses made from corn.

"We found that washing glasses takes three times as much water as it takes to fill them," said owner David Liebenstein.

Such practices may become the status quo, experts say, as the state feels the effects of climate change and moves toward a water system in which the environment is a higher priority and people conserve more water.

"Fifty years ago, polices were about extracting resources and the environment didn't count," Quinn said. "Today's policies are about recognizing the value of the environment itself, apart from the economic value to people.

"We're adjusting to that change, but it's very difficult."

E-mail Kelly Zito at kzito@sfchronicle.com.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Climate change might be altering waters along US west coast

Scientists believe climate change is the cause of stronger winds that drive upwelling of nutrient-rich deep ocean waters

  • guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 February 2009 16.10 GMT

The spectre of an ocean floor littered with dead shellfish, rock fish, sea stars and other marine life off the Oregon coast spurred Mark Snyder, a climate change expert, to investigate whether California's coast faced a similar calamity.

It could, the University of California Santa Cruz earth scientist said, citing climate change, which some scientists believe is responsible for stronger and more persistent winds along the coast. There's no debate that windier conditions drive more upwelling of nutrient-rich deep ocean waters.

At normal levels, this upwelling sustains the abundance of marine life, but too much of these rich waters leads to a boom-and-bust cycle that ultimately creates ocean "dead zones" with little or no oxygen. Marine life that can't swim or scuttle away from these lethal zones suffocate.

To assess future wind and upwelling scenarios along the California coast, Snyder and his colleagues at UC Santa Cruz ran climate simulations for two time periods. One spanned from 1968 to 2000, verifying the accuracy of the modelling. The second simulated the region's estimated climate from 2038 to 2070, using the intergovernmental panel on climate change "high-growth" emissions projections. Snyder said he chose the high emissions scenario because today's are exceeding earlier IPCC estimates.

The results showed increases in wind speeds of as much as 2 meters per second, a 40% increase from current wind speeds, which now average 5 meters per second, Snyder said.

The change in wind speeds is already happening, Snyder said. California winds have been growing in strength in the past 30 years.

Snyder said he knows his hypothesis needs more research, so he'll know whether to continue pursuing it or to discard it. The latter is unlikely, he said, given the new cycle of dead zones on the Oregon and Washington coasts that started in 2002.

"It was just chance they found the dead zones in Oregon," Snyder said, describing how fishers reported to marine scientists an alarming number of dead or dying crabs they were pulling up in traps. "It's quite possible these areas could be off the California coast," he said.

After the Oregon fishers reported their sickly catches, and divers described seeing bottom-dwelling fish in high waters or schools of fishes massing near an invisible wall - behind which was low-oxygen water - scientists from Oregon State University, along with state and federal marine experts, began investigating.

That year, and in years since, researchers have sent down a robot equipped with a video camera to record the carnage. They've also deployed a fleet of robotic "gliders" to maintain constant vigil on oxygen levels and other conditions along the Oregon coast, as well as a sophisticated monitoring buoy.

The worst year recorded was 2006, with the dead zone near the coast spreading from southern Oregon into Washington, where dead fish and crabs washed up on beaches along the Olympic Peninsula. Less severe dead zones returned in 2007.

"We've seen areas that are carpeted with dead marine life," said Oregon State marine ecologist Francis Chan. One video image stuck in his mind: A large dead sea star that must have been decades old, rotting in the water. Marine life such as that, which adhere to rocks most of their lives, can't scurry away from suffocating waters, he said. "It was pretty striking."

In normal years, winds blowing from north to south drive upwelling in the spring and summer months off the Pacific coast. These strengthened winds drive surface waters offshore, making room for deeper, nutrient-rich waters to surface, where sunlight triggers a heavy growth of phytoplankton, the bottom rung of the marine food chain.

But when the winds don't slacken and upwelling persists, excess phytoplankton blooms. When the uneaten plankton dies and sinks to the ocean floor, bacteria consuming it deplete the oxygen in the water.

Like so many other climate change projections, the scientists know they can't definitely point to greenhouse gases as the sole culprit behind windier conditions along the coast. But no other explanation fits, given the historical patterns of winds and upwelling, according to a primer from Oregon State on hypoxia, the technical term for oxygen depletion in waters.

A phenomenon called El NiƱo, which cycles in and out, doesn't explain it, or what's known as decadal oscillations, Chan said. "They're not at play here," Chan said. "So something else is likely at play."

Scrap carbon trading

This flawed system has failed to cut emissions. It's time to tackle the broader economic system that led to the climate crisis

Every time the carbon market fails to reduce emissions, the politicians and businesses who promote the market as the solution to the climate crisis reach for their Samuel Beckett: "Try again, fail again, fail better."

With the price of carbon collapsing, and even the head of EDF Energy in the UK, Vincent de Rivaz, warning of a speculative "carbon bubble", the EU continues to promote the expansion of carbon markets globally – with its proposal to create an OECD-wide carbon market by 2015, which it hopes to expand to major industrialising economies by 2020.

We've been here before. In the first phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, prices collapsed because the "permits to pollute" that are the basis of such a system were over-allocated in response to corporate lobbying. In other words, the cap-and-trade scheme that was supposed to set a limit on carbon emissions failed to "cap" anything.

The EU's response was to stress that this was a test phase, and promote an expansion of the scheme (which was passed into EU law last December). This was broadly akin to arguing that a car that disintegrates in a crash test should then be considered roadworthy.

Now that the price has collapsed again, we need to examine the deeper failings of the carbon market. It is not simply a question of Europe's power companies cashing in on a surplus of allowances which should have been sold rather than given away to them for free. The carbon markets themselves were designed by many of the same Chicago School economists who brought us derivatives trading, and they adopt a similar logic.

New financial products are made by parcelling up real world objects into commodities – in this case, "carbon". To make the market function, a broad range of very different activities are then treated as equivalent, although you don't need to be a climate scientist to see that burning more coal and oil is not eliminated by building more hydro-electric dams or capturing the methane in coal mines – and that funding the latter to cancel out the former can end up subsidising the very industries that need to change if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

In fact, the whole basis of carbon offsets (which are tied into the EU scheme through a regulation called the Linking Directive) is that credits are issued for projects deemed "additional" – rewarding companies and consultancies for turning stories of an unknowable future into bankable carbon credits. This is fundamentally unjust, insofar as it uses the global South to clean up a mess that Northern, industrialised countries have created. Numerous cases have been documented where such projects have resulted in land grabs and the repression of local communities.

The response of the political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos is to call for a reformed and extended carbon market. Here in the Brazilian city of Belem, where the World Social Forum is taking place, the response is different – with climate justice activists and campaigners arguing for the whole flawed system of carbon trading to be scrapped.

We have seen already the corrosive effect of the carbon market on climate negotiations – with the UN currently debating how best to construct new markets in forests (called REDD in the jargon), rather than tackling the real drivers of deforestation, such as pulp mills, mining and biofuel plantations.

If the road to Copenhagen, where a new global climate deal should be signed in December, is to be anything other than a dead-end, it is time to recall the many means of non-market based regulation and public sector investment that have been more successful in achieving environmental change, and to learn from communities with low-carbon lifestyles. It is time, in other words, not simply to talk of the impact of the financial crisis on the carbon market, but to examine and correct the failings of the broader economic system that led to the climate crisis in the first place.

Oscar Reyes is a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, a project of the Transnational Institute, and environment editor of Red Pepper magazine

WWF opposes precarious ocean fertilization project

From: WWF

Hamburg, Germany - A recent decision by the German government to give the go-ahead to a controversial large-scale ocean fertilization experiment (LOHAFEX) in international waters of the Southern Ocean has left WWF doubting Germany’s commitment to global agreements on the environment.

Last year, the meeting of the parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) imposed a de facto moratorium on large-scale ocean fertilization experiments and commercial uses, only allowing for small-scale scientific research in coastal waters.

Subsequently, the London Convention and Protocol (LC/LP), the global framework addressing ocean fertilization projects, urged its parties to use utmost caution with regard to scientific research proposals until further guidance is available.

“The German government’s decision is appalling,”� said Stephan Lutter, International Marine Policy Officer of WWF Germany. “Despite the fact that Germany is a signatory to the CBD and London Convention, the government has chosen to forego its international obligations and instead undermine and ignore the agreements made last year.”�

The CBD and LC have also urged their parties to carry out extensive environmental impact assessments (EIA) prior to giving the green light to such experiments.

Last week a hurriedly assembled assessment was made after heavy criticism of the project by WWF and other environmental NGOs, and as the research vessel “Polarstern”� that would carry out the experiment was already steaming towards the Southern Ocean site.

“We know too little about the ecological effects of iron fertilization for such a large-scale project to go ahead,”� Lutter said. “The sloppy manner in which EIAs were produced in this case will have international repercussions and encourage commercial geo-engineering all the more.”�

Ocean fertilization with iron or nitrogen compounds such as urea has been put forward as a means to slow down climate change. The theory is that iron, for example, a scarce element in parts of the oceans and essential to the growth of algae, is added to seawater, thus causing large phytoplankton blooms. The growing algae trap carbon dioxide and remove it from the atmosphere. So, advocates say, by “fertilizing”� the ocean surface we could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and reduce the rate of global warming.

However, the ecological effects of dumping large quantities of nutrients in the ocean are unknown and could turn large parts of the ocean floor into “dead”�, oxygen-depleted zones as blooming algae die, sink to the ocean floor and decompose. Shifts in nutrient balance are known to alter plankton species composition and food web structure. Additionally, the economic cost of ocean fertilization, should it be successful, are uncertain and could be far higher than the cost of reducing emissions in the first place.

WWF encourages the development of innovative solutions to tackle the huge threat climate change poses to the planet, but these solutions need to be carefully assessed in order to not create more problems than they solve.

This year is a pivotal year for Climate change, and WWF is working to ensure a robust agreement is reached to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December.

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Europe to feel the heat of climate change

From: New Scientist

A CENTURY from now, Spain and Italy will be enduring baking, parched summers while residents of central and north-west Europe will be experiencing what we now think of as Mediterranean warmth.

Reindert Haarsma and his team from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt used existing computer models to study changes in weather patterns resulting from the expected global warming. These indicated that summer temperatures in southern Europe would rise by 2 to 3 °C compared with today's, and that lack of rain would dry up the soils.

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The hot, dry air above these arid soils would then rise and expand, creating a low-pressure zone over the region. Winds circulating anticlockwise around this zone would feed continental air to more northerly areas, raising temperatures there too (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2008GL036617).

Article Continues: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126935.400-europe-to-feel-the-heat-of-climate-change.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=climate-change

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Population

Population

by Johathan Porritt
http://www.jonathonporritt.com/pages/2008/11/population_1.html

I thought it might be interesting to share an article done recently for Greenpeace Business.

They have just told me that they can’t use it – too controversial, apparently. If ever an article’s core hypothesis (in this case, that environmental NGOs are both gutless and less than honest in addressing population issues) was borne out by its editorial treatment, then this has to be it.

Which element in the following quotation (taken from a report about climate change issued earlier this year by the Ministry of Defence’s internal think-tank) most powerfully grabs your attention?

"The Earth’s population has grown exponentially in the last century, and rapid climate change of the kind that we have seen before would have more dramatic human consequences, resulting in societal collapse, mega-migration, intensifying competition for much-diminished resources, and widespread conflict."

Unless you are part of that very small minority of environmentalists who put population right at the top of any league table of current crises, that reference to "exponential population growth" will have gone straight in one ear and straight out the other.

There are all sorts of reasons for this: fear of controversy (particularly linked to population's "evil policy twin", namely immigration); "religious sensitivities", in as much as some of the fiercest and most bigoted opponents of proper fertility management are Catholics or Muslims; inexcusable ignorance; an obstinate refusal to think beyond the historical abuses of human rights carried out in the name of "population control" in India or China in the past; economic anxieties that without constant population growth there won’t be enough young people paying their taxes in the future to keep us in the style to which we have become accustomed; and umpteen different shades of political correctness all the way through from “who are we to tell people in the third world how to live their lives?” to “it’s over-consumption in the rich world that’s the problem, not over-population in the poor world”.

Each of those requires proper refutation, but for the purposes of this article, I would like to focus on the "over-consumption versus over-population" debate. This is the argument most favoured by environmentalists who have never really looked into the issue, but are so incensed by the uncaring profligacy of the world’s richest one billion citizens that any other explanation of today's converging crises seems like an irresponsible distraction.

So let's get one thing absolutely clear: I have spent my entire life campaigning against that kind of uncaring profligacy, and no doubt will spend the rest of my life doing exactly the same. There may have been some excuse for the damage we did to the physical environment back in the 1960s and 70s (in that the evidence was often flimsy, and it somehow all seemed to be quite manageable), but today there is no excuse. The evidence is now in – on every count – and what we do today we do with full and shameful knowledge. There is no excuse, and this generation of politicians – in all the major Parties – already stand accused of the most heinous cowardice imaginable.

So I don’t need lecturing about the perils of excessive consumption, or the idiocy of relying on exponential economic growth – fuelled by increased per capita income – to secure a better world! But I’ve never been persuaded that that’s all we have to worry about – as if one mega-reality shaded out every other mega-reality that we are now having to face up to.

And the mega-reality I'm talking about here is carrying capacity: how many people can the Earth’s resources and life-support services sustain on an indefinite basis? The answer to that is obviously determined in part by the level of consumption of each individual human being. But even if, by some currently unimaginable miracle, the richest people in the world today learn to lead what WWF calls "one planet lifestyles", does anyone seriously suppose that this would work for the next 3 billion people aspiring to live in the same way – and the next 3 billion who will be staking a claim on those self-same resources and services before 2050?

It's fascinating to see how many environmentalists have woken up in the last couple of years to the phenomenon of peak oil – the likelihood that we have either already passed or are very close to the "half-way point" in terms of using up existing oil reserves. But I'm not at all sure that the full implications of this have really sunk in. Our near-total dependence on oil makes it very difficult for people to envisage a life without it; activists in today's Transition Towns movement are full of anecdotes of people’s horror as they become acquainted with this reality. Richard Heinberg (author of "The Party’s Over" and a leading activist in the Association for the Study of Peak Oil) likes to rub this in by reminding people that just three spoonfuls of oil provides the equivalent amount of energy as 8 hours of human labour!

Richard’s latest book is called "Peak Everything" – covering not just peak oil, but peak soil, peak wheat, peak rice, peak fisheries, peak precious metals and, perhaps most pressingly of all, peak water.

This is not just a question of more and more people at risk because of declining water resources. A recent report from WWF highlighted the invisible nature of the problem here in the UK. We ourselves are not "running out of water", so there is no direct threat to our current average water consumption of 150 litres per day. But each of us consumes on average thirty times as much "virtual water", which has been used in the production of food and textiles imported into the UK. Big exporting countries like Spain, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Israel, Pakistan, South Africa and Uzbekistan are all facing acute water stress – and it’s quite sobering to be reminded that just one green bean from Kenya takes four litres of water to produce. As we work our way through more than 4500 litres of virtual water per person per day, because of these imports, are we, in effect, simply exporting drought?

There are of course all sorts of ways in which we can "fix" some of these problems. Hyper-efficient irrigation systems could reduce water consumption for agriculture by up to 50%. The next generation of solar-powered desalination technologies will bring some comfort to many coastal communities in water-stressed areas. If we had to, albeit at a massive cost, we could totally re-engineer our water and sewerage systems throughout the rich world to deliver exactly the same services for a fraction of current water consumption levels. All this is possible, but unbelievably difficult.

Given all that, one has to point out that it would be a great deal easier to do it for 3 billion people than for 6 billion, let alone 9 billion.

That was exactly the sort of thinking China’s leaders went through 30 years ago: that it might just be possible to sustain a population of around 1 billion on China’s limited land and natural resources, but completely impossible to do the same for 1.5 billion. The "one child family" policy introduced at that time has pegged China’s population at around 1.3 billion; according to the figures the Chinese government uses, it would otherwise have been 1.7 billion. That’s 400 million births averted.

This is where you have to start doing the sums. Per capita emissions of CO2 in China today are around 3.8 tonnes per person. An extra 400 million Chinese citizens legitimately going about their business of improving their economic standard of living, in exactly the same way that citizens of every single one of our rich nations have done over many decades, would today be emitting an additional 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2. When asked which country I believe is doing most about addressing the challenge of climate change, I’m only being partly mischievous when I tell my questioner that it is China.

But logic does not come easily to the hundreds of millions of people who are only just waking up to the threat of accelerating climate change. To be told that the best thing you can do by way of a personal contribution to the problem is to have fewer children (or enable the millions of women all around the world who would just love to have fewer children to do exactly that) comes as a bit of a shock. If, instead of 70 million additional people arriving every year, we had 70 million fewer, then we might still have a chance of arriving at a sustainable future for the whole of humankind. Without that, we are looking at very long odds indeed.

There's a double irony here. Every single one of the multiple socio-economic issues that preoccupy campaigns today would be eased by full-on, government-led interventions to help reduce average fertility – especially in the world’s poorest countries. And we know exactly how to generate that double dividend: massively increase funding for education for girls, for improved reproductive and other health interventions for women, and for ensuring access for women to a choice of reliable and cheap (preferably free) contraceptives. That's what successful family planning looks like.

Yet to listen to critics of family planning, you would still think it’s all about coercion and control. Whilst only too happy to regale you with the shocking statistics about compulsory abortions and sterilisations (let alone very high levels of female infanticide) in China, they know nothing of the success stories in places like Kerala, Thailand, Korea – and even in Iran. With the full support of Islamic leaders in that country, their total fertility rate fell from 6 children per woman in 1974 to 2 children per woman by 2000. And a brilliant education campaign was at the heart of this success story.

The wilful ignorance of environmentalists is one of the reasons why funding for family planning and reproductive healthcare has been falling over the last decade, instead of increasing, despite a rising number of requests for financial support from countries the world over. The other main reason is the vengeful fundamentalism of the George Bush regime, which decreed nearly 8 years ago that no organisation would receive US funding if it so much as acknowledged that abortion is a necessary (though always regrettable) part of any concerted strategy on family planning. Great company for such right-on environmentalists to be keeping.

This is not some abstract lament, detached from the reality of people's lives. In countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, there are tragedies unfolding in front of our eyes right now. In Kenya, the total fertility rate declined from 8 children per woman in 1979 to 4.7 children by 1998. Good news - but then, funding collapsed and average fertility is now on the rise again. If the downward trend had been continued, the population of Kenya in 2050 would have been 44 million. On current trends, it will be more than 80 million.

It's case studies like these (both good and bad) which persuaded the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health to re-engage in this debate in 2007. Its report, ("Return of the Population Growth Factor"), couldn't have been clearer in its overarching conclusion: "The evidence is overwhelming: The Millennium Development Goals are difficult or impossible to achieve with the current levels of population growth in the least developed countries and regions."

So what exactly is going on here? The governments of many of the poorest countries in the world are crying out for financial support for family planning, but are not getting it. The lives of countless millions of women are devastated by their inability to manage their own fertility, and hundreds of thousands die every year because of illegal abortions or complications from unwanted pregnancies. But their voices go largely unheard. On top of all that, every single one of the environmental problems we face today is exacerbated by population growth, and the already massive challenge of achieving an 80% cut in greenhouse gases by 2050 is rendered completely fantastical by the prospective arrival of another 2.5 billion people over the next 40 years.

Yet most environmentalists will still find this article offensive. They will go on banging their utterly inadequate "over-consumption drum", and somehow sleep easy in their beds that they are doing "a good job". I think not.

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