Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mexico City braces for water rationing

Supplies will be cut or reduced to homes in many areas of the capital this weekend, making a scarce resource even scarcer. 'We are running out of water,' an official said.
By Tracy Wilkinson for the LA Times
January 30, 2009
Reporting from Mexico City -- Already-scarce water gets even scarcer this weekend for millions of Mexicans.

One of the world's largest cities is launching a rationing plan in a drastic -- and some say overdue -- effort to conserve water after rampant development, mismanagement and reduced rainfall caused supplies to drop to dangerously low levels.

Starting Saturday, water will be cut or reduced to homes in at least 10 boroughs in Mexico City plus 11 other municipalities in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital. The action affects an estimated 5.5 million people and includes neighborhoods ranging from affluent Lomas de Chapultepec on the western edge of the city to poor, densely populated Iztapalapa in the southeast.

Full service is expected to be returned sometime Tuesday. Similar cuts will be carried out every month until the rainy season begins, usually around May.

"We are running out of water," Jorge Efren Villalon, a senior official with the National Water Commission, told Mexican radio Thursday.

The level at the main reservoir from which this urban area of nearly 20 million people gets its water for drinking and washing has dipped below 60% of capacity, Villalon said, the lowest in 16 years.

Water management is one of the most daunting chronic problems, like trash disposal and traffic flow, plaguing sprawling cities across the world. Experts say Mexico has failed to take actions needed to upgrade aqueducts, pipes and treatment plants and has allowed construction projects in areas that should be used for catching runoff and replenishing aquifers.

By one study, published Thursday in El Universal newspaper, 10 million people nationwide do not have access to potable water; many must buy it from water trucks at exorbitant prices.

Many Mexico City residents Thursday seemed to be taking things in stride and were filling buckets, cisterns and bathtubs to spell them through the weekend. Others complained that water flow in their neighborhoods was already so bad they couldn't imagine it getting worse.

Daniel Gallardo, manager of a restaurant in the tony Polanco neighborhood, said he had two large tanks on the roof that were full and was considering adding more.

Polanco is a typical example of a district where a building boom has stretched municipal resources despite its wealth.

"Water is getting more and more complicated with all the people arriving," Gallardo, 30, said. "For a while now, the situation has been that water pressure is good at night, but in the day it gets very low."

Through migration and a high birthrate, Mexico City's population increased sixfold in the last half of the 20th century. Demographers expect it to continue growing, but more slowly.

Villalon and other officials said rationing was a stop-gap measure and that efforts such as conservation and investment in water-delivery systems were also necessary.

Several city districts were setting up public water tanks to supply residents over the weekend and minimize political fallout.

"We are asking citizens to conserve water," Mexico state water secretary David Korenfeld said, "but not to panic."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Leadership Needed to Address Deforestation Emissions

From: Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard

Today, NRDC joined a diverse group of environmental, conservation, and development organizations; businesses; and leading academics in a "Call for Leadership" to address deforestation (available here and a list of partners here). Frances Beinecke, our President, helped launch this "Call" with a speech to leading US policymakers from Congress and elsewhere at an event hosted by the group Avoided Deforestation Partners (that I wrote about here). She was joined by a high-level group of leading policymakers, including Senator's Kerry and Lugar and Nobel-Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

The US and the world need to simultaneously cut all sources of global warming pollution - from both the energy sector and tropical deforestation. With deforestation accounting for about 20% of the world's global warming pollution, addressing deforestation is a critical component of the world's efforts to combat global warming. So that is why we came together to launch this "Call for Leadership"”�to focus US attention on helping to get a solution to this challenge.

Time is not on our side. Without a significant change, much of the world's forests will be lost in the span of decades, not centuries. And we need to mobilize resources and political will immediately to ensure that a sound strategy for deforestation's global warming pollution is integrated into the new international agreement to be reached in Copenhagen — in just around 10 months — and in the key tropical forest countries.

The US must take a leadership role in helping combat these emissions, just as we must take an overall leadership role in combating global warming. The good news is that the US has a long record of bi-partisan support for efforts to address the loss of the world's native forests, including the adoption of an amendment to the US law which helps developing countries address illegal logging.

Leadership needs to come both by ensuring that significant financial resources and other support is effectively integrated into the US climate legislative and that the US plays a strong role in ensuring that the new international global warming agreement also includes these tools.

That is why this diverse group came together and is calling for US leadership now — as the US climate legislation is expected to move and the outlines of the Copenhagen agreement are starting to take shape.

We need a wide-range of tools to support efforts by developing countries to reduce these emissions. There are no silver bullets. But it is clear to us that we need both market and non-market approaches to solve this challenge. And we'll need to be effective and smart in how we mobilize these dedicated resources if we are to address this important challenge.

Of course, we in the US can't do it alone. We'll need developing countries to help us in this endeavor. Without a strong commitment from these countries, coupled with strong support from the US, we won't succeed over time.

It will require that the US and tropical developing countries undertake a joint financial, political, and program commitment to actions on the ground to deliver tangible reductions in deforestation's global warming pollution. We'll need to create a framework that produces long-term preservation of these forests and that supports tropical developing countries to undertake more of the effort on their own over time.

There are recent positive signs coming from major tropical forest countries and regions that they are ready to be partners in this effort. For example, Brazil announced a goal to significantly cut deforestation rates over the next 10 years.

These signals alone are of course not enough. We need to do more. That is why this group is asking for US leadership at this crucial juncture.

We hope that you'll join us in this effort to address the loss of the world's tropical forests before it is too late.

US urged to save forests to curb climate change

From: Reuters

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The United States needs to take the lead in preserving tropical forests in the fight against climate change, a coalition of lawmakers, corporate chiefs and environmentalists said on Monday.

Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of the carbon emissions that spur global warming, members of the Avoided Deforestation Partners coalition told a Capitol Hill forum.

The U.S. Congress is expected to take up legislation this year -- possibly as soon as this month -- to tackle climate change, aiming to come up with policies that will help the United States and other countries forge a new international agreement to succeed the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.

"Without the leadership of the United States of America, everybody else will say, maybe this is not as serious as it seems," Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told the group. "If America is not concerned, then it cannot be a serious issue."

Maathai said three great tropical forests -- the Amazon in South America, the Congo in Africa and the jungles of Southeast Asia -- are the "lungs" of the world, acting to lock up vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

The coalition has been heartened by the Congress' intentions on carbon-capping legislation, as well as the new administration of President Barack Obama, who campaigned on fighting climate change.

The Bush administration had been hostile to the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would put the United States at an economic disadvantage.

Article Continues:

Efficiency Alone Could Cut U.S. Electricity Use by 30 Percent: RMI Study

From: GreenBiz

SNOWMASS, Colo. -- An assessment of the "electric productivity" of the 50 states indicates that shoring up performance gaps through energy efficiency could not only cut consumption by 30 percent, but also eliminate the need for more than 60 percent of coal-fired generation, according to a new study by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The RMI study, "Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the U.S. Efficiency Opportunity," determines the productivity rate of each state by measuring how much gross domestic product is generated for each kilowatt-hour consumed.

The results varied widely among the states. The five showing the hightest electric productivity rates are New York, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware and California. The bottom five are Idaho, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and, in last place, Mississippi.

If states were brought up to the range of productivity rates attained by the top 10 performers, which the report contends could be achieved through energy efficiency alone, then more than 60 percent of the country's coal-fired generation could be avoided, the study says.

"Closing the electric productivity gap through energy efficiency is the largest near-term opportunity to immediately reduce electricity use and greenhouse gases, and move the United States forward as a leader in the new clean energy economy," Natalie Mims, a consultant on RMI's Energy and Resources Team, said in a statement.

Article Continues:

Australian bushfires: when two degrees is the difference between life and death

Scientist Tim Flannery recalls the long, wet Victorian winters now replaced by a drier and dangerous climate

A bushfire burns in the Kiewa valley towards the town of Dederang, in Victoria.

A bushfire burns in the Kiewa valley towards the town of Dederang, in Victoria. Photograph: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images

The day after the great fire burned through central Victoria, I drove from Sydney to Melbourne. For much of the way – indeed for hundreds of miles north of the scorched ground - smoke obscured the horizon, entering my air conditioned car and carrying with it that distinctive scent so strongly signifying death, or to Aboriginal people, cleansing.

It was as if a great cremation had taken place. I didn't know then how many people had died in their cars and homes, or while fleeing the flames, but by the time I reached the scorched ground just north of Melbourne, the dreadful news was trickling in. At first I heard that 70 people had died, then 108. Then 170. While the precise number of victims is yet to be ascertained, the overall situation at least is now clear. Australia has suffered its worst recorded peacetime loss of life. And the trauma will be with us forever.

I was born in Victoria, and over five decades I've watched as the state has changed. The long, wet and cold winters that seemed so insufferable to me as a young boy wishing to play outside vanished decades ago, and for the past 12 years a new, drier climate has established itself. I could measure its progress whenever I flew into Melbourne airport. Over the years the farm dams under the flight path filled ever less frequently, while the suburbs crept ever further into the countryside, their swimming pools seemingly oblivious to the great drying.

Climate modelling has clearly established that the decline of southern Australia's winter rainfall is being caused by a build-up of greenhouse gas, much of it from the burning of coal. Ironically, Victoria has the most polluting coal-fed power plant on Earth, while another of its coal plants was threatened by the fire. There's evidence that the stream of global pollution caused a step-change in climate following the huge El NiƱo event of 1998. Along with the dwindling rainfall has come a desiccation of the soil, and more extreme summer temperatures.

This February, at the zenith of a record-breaking heatwave with several days over 40C, Melbourne recorded its hottest day ever – a suffocating 46.1C, with even higher temperatures occurring in rural Victoria. This extreme coincided with exceptionally strong northerly winds, which were followed by an abrupt southerly change. This brought a cooling, but it was the shift in wind direction that caught so many in a deadly trap. Such conditions have occurred before. In 1939 and 1983 they led to dangerous fires. But this time the conditions were more extreme than ever before, and the 12-year "drought" meant that plant tissues were almost bone dry.

Despite narrowly missing the 1983 Victorian fires, and then losing a house to the 1994 Sydney bushfires, I had not previously appreciated the difference a degree or two of additional heat, and a dry soil, can make to the ferocity of a fire. This fire was quantatively different from anything seen before. Strategies that are sensible in less extreme conditions, such as staying to defend your home or fleeing in a car when you see flames, become fatal options under such oven-like circumstances. Indeed, there are few safe options indeed in such conditions, except to flee at the first sign of smoke.

My country is still in shock at the loss of so many lives. But inevitably we will look for lessons from this natural tragedy. The first such lesson I fear is that we must anticipate more such terrible blazes in future, for the world's addiction to burning fossil fuels goes on unabated, with 10 billion tonnes being released last year alone. And there is now no doubt that the pollution is laying the preconditions necessary for more such blazes.

When he ratified the Kyoto protocol, Australia's prime minister Kevin Rudd called climate change the greatest threat facing humanity. Shaken, and clearly a man who has seen things none of us should see, he has now had the eye-witness proof of his words. We can only hope now that Australia's climate policy, which is weak, is significantly strengthened.

After ignoring the Kyoto protocol for years, just months ago we committed to a reduction in pollution of a mere 5% by 2020 over 2000 levels, with the possibility of increasing that to 15% if a successful treaty comes out at Copenhagen later this year. Our national goal is a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050, but such targets are easy to articulate if the bulk of the work must be done by future governments.

As the worst greenhouse polluters, per capita, of any developed nation, there is an urgent need for Australians to reduce our dependency on coal. I believe that if we want to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding truly dangerous climate change, we should cease burning coal conventionally by around 2030. No such policy is currently being contemplated. Instead, as perhaps anyone would, Australians have been focusing on the immediate cause of some of the fires.

Rudd has said that the arsonists suspected of lighting some fires are guilty of mass murder, and the police are busy chasing down these malefactors. But there's an old saying among Australian fire fighters — "whoever owns the fuel, owns the fire". Let's hope that Australians ponder the deeper causes of this horrible tragedy, and change our polluting ways before it's too late.

Tim Flannery is a scientist at the University of Macquarie and author of The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change

Monday, February 9, 2009

Emergency talks called on 'harder' climate change

  • David Adam, London, for The Age, Melbourne Australia
  • February 10, 2009
  • Page 1 of 2 | Single Page View

SCIENTISTS are to hold an emergency summit to warn the world's politicians they are being too timid in their response to global warming.

Climate experts from around the world will gather in Copenhagen next month to agree on a stark message to policymakers that, they hope, will break the political deadlock on efforts to curb rising temperatures.

The meeting follows "disturbing" studies that suggest global warming could strike harder and faster than expected.

It comes ahead of a year of high-level political discussions on climate change that will climax with international negotiations in Copenhagen in December, when officials will try to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Marine biologist Katherine Richardson of the University of Copenhagen, who is organising next month's event, said: "This is not a regular scientific conference. This is a deliberate attempt to influence policy."

The meeting will publish an update to the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Professor Richardson said the IPCC report was "wishy-washy" on issues such as sea level rise.

"The IPCC talks of a 40-centimetre sea rise this century. Well, if the consensus now is a rise of a metre or more, then they need to know that," she said.

A number of studies published since the IPCC report was prepared show carbon emissions are rising faster than expected and the present greenhouse gas targets may not be enough to prevent catastrophic temperature rise.

Climate experts, including Jim Hansen of the US space agency Nasa, have warned about so-called "tipping points" that could lead to runaway warming and rapid sea level rise.

Bob Watson, a former head of the IPCC and chief scientist in Defra, the British Government's environment department, said: "Certainly in Defra they're aware of the situation. Whether all governments are aware of it is another matter.

"Even without the new information, there was enough to make most policymakers think that urgent action was absolutely essential. The new information only strengthens that and pushes it even harder." Continued...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Australian bushfire death toll its worst ever

• 'Hell and its fury' in Victoria, prime minister declares
• Scores of deaths exceed Ash Wednesday fires of 1983

A fire truck in front a bushfire at the Bunyip Sate Forest

A fire truck in front a wall of flame at the Bunyip sate forest Tonimbuk township in Victoria, Australia. Photograph: Andrew Brownbill/EPA

The death toll in the raging Australian bushfires has risen to at least 84, making it the country's worst fire disaster.

Police believe more bodies will be found in small towns razed by wildfires in the state of Victoria, the hardest hit area with more than 700 homes destroyed.

Thousands of firefighters battled for a second day today to contain the blazes, which witnesses said reached four storeys high and raced across the land like speeding trains, spewing hot embers as far as the horizon. The most serious fires are burning north of the Victorian capital, Melbourne.

The army was being deployed to help out and the country's prime minister, Kevin Rudd, announced immediate emergency aid of A$10m (£4.5m).

"Hell and its fury have visited the good people of Victoria," said Rudd on a visit to the disaster zone. "The nation grieves with Victoria."

"It went through like a bullet," Darren Webb-Johnson, from the small rural town of Kinglake, told Sky TV. "The service station went, the takeaway store across the road went, cylinders [exploded] left, right and centre, and 80% of the town burnt down to the ground."

Many of those confirmed dead were trapped in cars trying to flee, while state broadcaster the ABC showed pictures of the small town of Marysville razed.

"Marysville, which was one the loveliest townships in Victoria, if not Australia, has just about been wiped out," said Ivor Jones, a pastor whose own home in the town was destroyed.

The fires are burning around towns about 50 miles (80km) north of Melbourne, hitting both semi-urban and rural areas. More than 20 people were being treated for serious burns, local officials said.

"These fires won't be out for some days," said John Brumby, the premier of Victoria, as he appealed for blood donations for burns victims. "It's about as horrific as it could get," he said.

At the town of Wandong, about 30 miles north of Melbourne, one survivor said he had found the body of a friend in the laundry of a burned-out house. Another survivor, 65-year-old Rosaleen Dove, said she had fought successfully for seven hours with her husband to defend her home on Saturday. "We made it. I never thought I could jump fences so quickly," she said.

All of the deaths, confirmed and suspected, are believed by police to have been yesterday. Police said 12 were people killed around Kinglake, the worst-affected area so far known.

Marie Jones said she was staying at a friend's house in the town when a badly burned man arrived with his infant daughter, saying his wife and other child had been killed.

"He was so badly burnt," she told the Melbourne Age website.

"He had skin hanging off him everywhere and his little girl was burnt, but not as badly as her dad, and he just came down and he said: 'Look, I've lost my wife, I've lost my other kid, I just need you to save [my daughter]'."

Fires were still burning across about 770 sq miles (2,000 sq km) in areas north of Melbourne, with a few towns still under threat, the ABC said on its website. Brumby said 26 fires remained out of control in Victoria.

Bushfires are an annual natural event in Australia, but this year a combination of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush has created prime conditions and raised pressure on the government's climate change policy.

Australia's previous deadliest bushfires were the so-called Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 when 75 people were killed and more than 3,000 homes destroyed in the southern states of Victoria and South Australia.


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