Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cost of nuclear decommissioning to soar

If you thought building and running nuclear power plants was too expensive, just wait until you have to dispose of them. From The cost of cleaning up the UK's nuclear facilities - some of which date back to the 1950s - looks set to rise above £73bn. A senior official at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) told the BBC this week that the costs of dismantling 19 sites over the coming years will rise by billions of pounds. Figures from the National Audit Office earlier this year said the estimated cost of decommissioning power sites had risen to £73bn.

Jim Morse, a senior director at the NDA, told the BBC: "I think it's a high probability that in the short term it will undoubtedly go up. "We've still a lot to discover. We haven't started waste retrieval in those parts of the estate where the degradation and radioactive decay has been at its greatest." He estimated that the extra cost would run into billions but admitted that he could not be sure how much the total would be. "No-one's done this before," he added….

A fisherman across the water from the Seabrook power plant in New Hampshire, by Matthew Trump, via Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

UN allocates $13 million for Ethiopian drought victims

The Daily Monitor (Addis Ababa): The Humanitarian Response Fund (HRF) has allocated US$ 7.2 million for the procurement of CSB, ready to use therapeutic foods and drugs, in response to the present alarming levels of malnutrition, the UN said on Monday. The fund has already provided US$ 5.5 million for water and livestock interventions in Borena and Guji zones of Oromiya and parts of Somali regions.

"The HRF is also reviewing additional project applications from NGOs responding to the nutrition and seed requirements in SNNP and Oromiya regions," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-UNOCHA- said in its weekly humanitarian report. It said the programme has received US$ 13 million from the Governments of Norway, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

UNOCHA said the food security situation in the drought affected areas of Oromiya, Somali and SNNPR was anticipated to further deteriorate as the hunger season sets in June combined with the alarming increase in prices of food commodities and market disruption adding that emergency resource shortages further exacerbate the situation….

Flag of Ethiopia, image by "SKopp," Wikimedia Commons

Good intentions eclipse funding at UN biodiversity meeting

Stephen Leahy in IPS takes a sour look at the recent biodiversity meeting in Bonn. Well worth a read: The world community took some ever-so-careful steps towards slowing the biodiversity crisis at a major U.N. meeting in Bonn, while emphasising the need for urgency and action. Agreement on the need for more protected areas in tropical forests and oceans was universal, but only Germany offered any new funding. On the contentious issue of biofuels and their impacts on food and biodiversity, members agreed at the last minute that biofuels production ought to be environmentally sustainable and not impact biodiversity. There was also an agreement on a de facto moratorium on ocean fertilisation schemes.

And, after 16 years of meetings, the 168 nations that have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) agreed to a final two-year timetable to establish an asset and benefit sharing (ABS) regime. ABS is about access to biodiversity and equitable sharing of benefits resulting from its use. The intent is to end "biopiracy" -- the exploitation of indigenous plants and animals for profit without permission or compensation -- and reverse countries' denial of access to any native species for scientific or commercial purposes. Half of all synthetic drugs have been derived from plants or insects.

…"Without a legally binding ABS regime, we cannot build tomorrow's green economy," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme....

A Howard Pyle painting of a pirate. Maybe he's a bio-pirate, too, though he looks a little too dashing to go around stealing the developing world's biological riches. From Pyle's Book of Pirates, Wikimedia Commons.

Forests, wildlife, fire danger all expected to be effected by warming Sierra

Long piece by Greyson Howard in the Sierra Sun: Many doomsday predictions of climate change focus on rising oceans, flooding coastlines and submerged cities, but some scientists are watching the Sierra to gauge other significant impacts. Looking into the future it isn’t hard for researchers to picture the many different Sierra ecosystems — wrapped like bands around different elevations — retreating rapidly upward, squeezing each other and eventually running out of elevation to climb.

As future temperatures rise, predictions are for snow to melt faster and streams to swell earlier, out of sync with the breading cycles of aquatic species like fish and frogs. Dry summers would leave entire forests more susceptible to fire and pests than ever before.

And, many experts agree, the changes become amplified as they move up the food chain, throwing the Sierra Nevada’s entire ecosystem, meticulously established over millennia, out of balance in a matter of decades. The bottom line, some scientists conclude, is the extinction of vulnerable mountain species and increased fire risk for the Sierra’s human inhabitants.

“Our concern is with the rapidity of change — most species can evolve over time and the planet has always been in flux — but it’s the rate of change, which is really unlike anything we’ve been able to study,” said Josh Viers, assistant research ecologist at UC Davis.

The Sierra Nevada has been characterized as the “canary in the coal mine,” according to the U.S. Forest Service, an early alarm for the deleterious effects of rising temperatures. But all parts of the Sierra won’t be treated equal. Despite Truckee-Tahoe’s more northern latitude, the area will likely be hit harder than the taller mountains to the south….

Split Mountain, in the Sierra Nevada of California, shot by Jonathan Fox, from Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License (cc-by-sa-2.0)

Apparent problem with global warming climate models resolved

Science Daily: Yale University scientists reported that they may have resolved a controversial glitch in models of global warming: A key part of the atmosphere didn't seem to be warming as expected.

Computer models and basic principles predict atmospheric temperatures should rise slightly faster than, not lag, increases in surface temperatures. Also, the models predict the fastest warming should occur at the Tropics at an altitude between eight and 12 kilometers. However, temperature readings taken from weather balloons and satellites have, according to most analysts, shown little if any warming there compared to the surface.

By measuring changes in winds, rather than relying upon problematic temperature measurements, Robert J. Allen and Steven C. Sherwood of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale estimated the atmospheric temperatures near 10 km in the Tropics rose about 0.65 degrees Celsius per decade since 1970—probably the fastest warming rate anywhere in Earth's atmosphere. The temperature increase is in line with predictions of global warming models.

“I think this puts to rest any lingering doubts that the atmosphere really has been warming up more or less as we expect, due mainly to the greenhouse effect of increasing gases like carbon dioxide,” Sherwood said…

A weather balloon, shot by "Wolke," who has released the image into the public domain. Since Wolke means "cloud" in German, we thank the clouds for their generosity.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A plan to adapt to glacier retreat in the Andes

The World Bank: The World Bank announced today a new program to address the impact of tropical glacier retreat in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The program, supported by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), will grant US$7.49 million to implement a set of adaptation actions to face the threats posed by climate change in the Andes. The project totals US$ 33 million and draws from several donors.

The new Adaptation to the Impact of Rapid Glacier Retreat in the Tropical Andes Project (Andes Region Project) in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador targets mountainous and glacial areas. “Climate change will heavily impact Andean countries’ economies, particularly the poor. Adapting to climate change is crucial given the severe and irreversible effects it will have on the region,” stated Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank director for Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, during the project launch in Lima.

The initiative seeks to strengthen the resilience of local ecosystems and economies affected by rapid tropical glacier retreat by implementing pilot adaptation activities that illustrate the costs and benefits of adaptation alternatives….

A view of the Andes by Argentino Lake, image by Calyponte, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

Italy declares flood emergency, at least three dead

Reuters: Italy declared an emergency in the northwest of the country on Friday after torrential rainfall caused floods and landslides that have killed at least three people and are putting crops at risk. "We are still in the middle of a crisis and will be so for the next 24 hours," Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's Civil Protection service told reporters after an emergency meeting in Turin where the river Po has been at dangerously high levels.

The Turin region of Piedmont and the mountainous Val d'Aosta were put under a "state of emergency" by the government -- a status which allows for extra funds and special measures to be taken to protect lives and infrastructure...

Better weather than today: A view of the Po River from Turin, by Michael Tremblay, who has generously released the image into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Many thanks, Michael

TICAD delegates in Tokyo vow efforts on African development

Xinhua: Delegates at an African development conference vowed here [in Tokyo] Friday their efforts toward boosting economic growth, ensuring human security and addressing climate change in Africa. The delegates, coming from African countries and international and regional organizations, at the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) also agreed on a concrete Yokohama Action Plan for the next five years and a follow-up mechanism to monitor the progress of the aid.

In response to the appeals from African countries, the highlights are put on building infrastructure and increasing agricultural productivity to accelerate broad-based economic growth in Africa. As part of the efforts, the World Bank announced to scale up lending for infrastructure, including transport, energy, water and sanitation, and information communication technologies, from the current 2.6 billion US dollars investment to 3.3 billion per year over the coming three years.

Japan also pledged to provide loans up to 4 billion dollars to support, among other areas, infrastructure--especially road corridors and regional power projects- and agriculture. Welcoming the efforts of the donation countries, African leaders also called for closer Africa-Asia cooperation and productive usage of international aid.

Africa accounts for only 4 percent of CO2 emissions, yet its populations, largely dependent on natural resources, are among the most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. The bitter fact has thus made the environmental issue a key point for the approach to be discussed at TICAD IV….

An aerial shot of Tokyo at night, shot by "Lukas," Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Environmental damage costs $4.8 trillion annually

Mongabay: Environmental damage and biodiversity loss in forest ecosystems costs 2.1 to 4.8 trillion dollars per year, according to a report released Thursday at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Bonn, Germany. The report, entitled "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" and commissioned by the European Union and the German government, attaches a monetary value to services provided by species and ecosystems. The report says these services are often undervalued by humanity.

"Nature provides human society with a vast diversity of benefits such as food, fibres, fuel, clean water, healthy soil, protection from floods, protection from soil erosion, medicines, storing carbon (important in the fight against climate change) and many more," the report stated. "Though our well being is totally dependent upon these "ecosystem services" they are predominantly public goods with no markets and no prices, so they often are not detected by our current economic compass. As a result, due to the pressures coming from population growth, changing diets, urbanization and also climate change, biodiversity is declining, our ecosystems are being continuously degraded and we, in turn, are suffering the consequences."…

This is the price tag of the lotus root, and "不淮折断" means "Do not break" in simplified Chinese, because the vegetable is easily broken. Photo copyright © 2006 Mai-Linh Đoàn, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

Forest canopies and their role in nitrogen fixation

Science Daily: In the May 30 issue of Science, a team of researchers from the United States and Sweden report on a newly identified factor that controls the natural input of new nitrogen into boreal forest ecosystems. Nitrogen is the primary nutrient that dictates productivity (and thus carbon consumption) in boreal forests. In pristine boreal ecosystems, most new nitrogen enters the forest through cyanobacteria living on the shoots of feather mosses, which grows in dense cushions on the forest floor.

These bacteria convert nitrogen from the atmosphere to a form that can be used by other living organisms, a process referred to as "nitrogen-fixation." The researchers showed that this natural fertilization process appears to be partially controlled by trees and shrubs that sit above the feather mosses.

In the summer of 2006, the researchers placed small tubes, called resin lysimeters, in the moss layer to catch nitrogen deposited on the feather moss carpets from the above canopy and then monitored nitrogen fixation rates in the mosses. The studies revealed that when high levels of nitrogen were deposited on the moss cushion from above, a condition typical of young forests, nitrogen fixation was extremely low. In older, low-productivity forests, very little nitrogen was deposited on the moss cushion, resulting in extremely high nitrogen fixation rates….

A shaft of sunlight penetrates the dense forest canopy above Rich Creek Hollow in Fayette County, WV, USA, in a photo taken by KenThomas (personal website of photographer, no relation). Ken Thomas has generously released this image into the public domain – many thanks, Ken

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Under pressure, White House finally releases climate change report

ABC News: Today, the White House finally released an overdue report on the comprehensive impact of global warming on the United States. It is the first such report from the Bush administration since it took office more than seven years ago. Starting to catch up with the understanding long agreed on by the world's climate scientists, the report says, "It is likely that there has been a substantial human contribution to surface temperature increases in North America."

With recent U.S. wildfires, downpours, drought and smog, the report paints a sobering picture of threats to America's food, water and energy supplies -- stressed in an ever hotter country. Integrating federal research efforts of many agencies and literally thousands of scientists, it reports that the global climate disruption now under way is already damaging U.S. water resources, agriculture and wildlife and is expected to keep doing so -- often worsening -- for "the next few decades and beyond."...

North Portico of the White House, by James Hoban, Wikimedia Commons

Nanotech to detect waterborne biohazards (UK): Space scientists from NASA are putting their expertise in cutting-edge nanotechnology to use in developing sensors to spot contamination in food and water. The biosensor can spot potentially deadly bacteria, viruses and parasites associated with waterborne illnesses at very low levels.

"The biosensor makes use of ultra-sensitive carbon nanotubes which can detect biohazards at very low levels," said Meyya Meyyappan, chief scientist for exploration technology and former director of NASA's Centre for Nanotechnology. "When biohazards are present, the biosensor generates an electrical signal, which is used to determine the presence and concentration levels of specific micro-organisms in the sample. Because of their tiny size, millions of nanotubes can fit on a single biosensor chip."

NASA has licensed the device to private company Early Warning, whose officials say food and drink companies, water agencies, industrial plants, hospitals and airlines could use the biosensor to prevent outbreaks of illnesses caused by pathogens - without needing a laboratory or technicians.

"Biohazard outbreaks from pathogens and infectious diseases occur every day," said Neil Gordon, president of Early Warning. "The key to preventing major outbreaks is frequent and comprehensive testing for each suspected pathogen, as most occurrences of pathogens are not detected until after people get sick or die….

Clean pool, dirty pool, shot by "andrius_v110," who has generously released the image into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Many thanks...

'False optimism' climate warning

James Randerson in the Guardian (UK): Climate scientists have warned that a "false optimism" has infused international climate talks and that governments must work quickly to set tough targets for global carbon emissions or risk profound consequences for the planet.

In strong language, the scientists have urged politicians to deliver "stringent emissions cuts and major adaptation efforts" to minimise the damage the next generation will encounter. They argue that the world has lost 10 years talking about climate change when it should have been taking action. "A curious optimism ... pervades the political arenas of the G8 and UN climate meetings. This is false optimism, and it is obscuring reality," they write in Nature Reports Climate Change. The authors are part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but stress that in this paper they do not represent the panel.

The scientists say that even the most politically feasible target, of a 50% global reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 from the levels of 1990, would still entail "major global impacts". They used new modelling data on the impact of differing long-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. "For the first time we can read off what damages are avoided or not avoided for different amounts of emissions cuts," said Professor Martin Parry….

A still from a silent movie of Pollyanna, Wikimedia Commons

Expediition to Kamchatka to study warming effects

Science Daily: An intrepid team of researchers from The University of Nottingham are venturing into one of the most isolated regions on the planet to study the potentially devastating effects of global warming on natural habitats. Led by ecology lecturer Dr Markus Eichhorn, the team will spend 10 weeks camping in the wilderness of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia, an area of outstanding natural beauty that boasts the northern hemisphere's largest active volcano, an unusually large population of grizzly bears and giant herbs that can grow in excess of 10ft high.

The researchers will spend their time carefully mapping the extraordinary abundance of plant and animal life as a starting point to monitoring the effects of climate change on the area, which is one of the fastest warming regions in the world.

Kamchatka is a volcanic peninsula on the pacific 'ring of fire' covering an area of 472,300 km² and boasting 160 volcanoes, 29 of which are still active. It has a population of 402,500 but more than half of its inhabitants live in the region's administrative and industrial centre Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky. After World War II, the region was declared a military zone and was closed to foreigners until 1990. Among the diverse wildlife found in the region are a large number of grizzly bears — sustained by lakes and rivers teeming with many species of salmon — wolves, arctic foxes, lynx, wolverine, sable, reindeer and moose. Kamchatka is also the breeding ground for Steller's sea eagle, one of the largest eagle species with a wing span up to two metres…

Volcanoes on Kamchatka, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Europe faces climate stress On this date, May 28, 2008, the US National Weather Service registered the highest temperature ever measured in Austria's history for the month of May (NOAA's 24 hour summary). At 10.00 AM, in the metropolitan region of Graz-Thalerhof-Flughafen (airport), it soared to a stifling 95 degrees fahrenheit (34.8 degrees Celcius). Local residents were stunned that it could have gotten so hot so early in the day, in a mountainous region not yet into its Summer season. Austria's, and Europe's, medical and public health authorities are concerned that this could be yet another year with deadly temperatures.

In August of 2003, a heat wave in Europe killed 35,000 people - 15,000 in France. On the 10th of that month, London experienced its first ever historically-recorded temperature over the 100 degree Farenheit mark... and 900 died. That August also went into the history books as the Northern Hemisphere's warmest ever registered. The issue of such high temperatures in temperate regions is critical. Many elderly residents in these urban regions live a sedate life, unacclimatized to such extremes, and if the human body's core temperature cannot adequately adjust through reorienting blood circulation, then vital organs are at risk and deadly toxins are released through this breakdown. The same thing happens if one has a fever that goes over 104 degrees fahrenheit.

It also intensely overloads the electric grid and related infrastructures - spewing even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere - further compounding the long-term problem. England's weather and environmental research service, MetOffice, projects that the "mean summer [2008] temperatures are more likely to be above 1971-2000 averages over much of Europe, with the highest probabilities of warmer than average over Mediterranean regions."

…The issue also is daunting purely on the economical front. For example, here is how The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance sumarises the concern: This paper has shown that climate change is a crucial issue for the insurance sector, because of the direct impacts from the altered climate system, and the indirect ones from policies to reduce emissions or prevent damage. Already the impacts in Europe are growing serious. At the global level, the economic cost of weather damage could reach over 1 trillion USD in a single year by 2040. The impacts will be worse in developing countries.

Austria's coat of arms, Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A global map of wildlife disease

Environmental Science and Technology: The plight of the world’s wildlife is worsening under the combined onslaught of climate change, habitat destruction, chemical pollution, and infectious diseases. This has direct and indirect consequences for environmental and human health. Yet the tallies and descriptions of diseased and dying wildlife are not always reported in global information platforms, making it difficult for researchers to stay current.

Now a new online map (the Global Wildlife Disease Map), developed jointly by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin Madison, provides a single platform for tracking wildlife health on a global scale. Updated daily, the map pinpoints locations with reported disease outbreaks and is part of a 5-year-old database on wildlife diseases called the Wildlife Disease Information Node (WDIN). Viewers can map diseases by species, country, and type—bacterial, fungal, environmental, viral, and so on—and learn about the diseases themselves from the resources provided by WDIN….

Migratory birds are a major pathway for the spread of wildlife pathogens that also infect humans, including the West Nile virus and Avian Influenza virus. Shown here: a gathering of coots, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Most developing countries ill-equipped to ensure global biosafety

Science Daily: A two-year UN study of internationally funded training programmes in biotechnology and biosafety warns that as many as 100 developing countries are unprepared to effectively manage and monitor the use of modern biotechnologies, leaving the world community open to serious biosafety threats. The report, from the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, says training and management deficiencies in most countries of Africa, Central Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean, "are so pervasive and broad that there is no effective international system of biosafety at the moment."

In addition, the global resources available from donor countries and agencies, already inadequate to help developing countries meet basic international agreement obligations, are being cut back. It is estimated that, over the past 15 years, just $135 million has been invested globally by public and private sources in capacity building in developing country.

The UNU-IAS assessment, released at this month's Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, takes no sides on genetically modified organisms and other biotech-related controversies. It was designed simply to shed a neutral, independent and objective light on international biotechnology and biosafety training programmes intended to allow developing countries to make and implement informed choices….

Biohazard symbol by "Silsor," who generously released it into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Many thanks, Silsor

Press reactions to the recent US Department of Agriculture report on climate change impacts

San Diego Union Tribune
New Climate Report Foresees Big Changes
New York Times, United States - 15 hours ago
The new report, which includes some findings that are more sobering and definitive than those in the 2000 climate report, holds the signatures of three ...
US Department of Agriculture: Warming may cut crop yields
Food price inflation is just the beginning San Diego Union Tribune
Fed report says climate change risks crops, water The Associated Press
Newswise (press release) - San Diego Union Tribune
all 138 news articles »
Climate report: Be ready for higher food prices, water shortages
Seattle Post Intelligencer - 11 hours ago
The US Department of Agriculture report catalogued effects thought by scientists to be likely over the next 25 to 50 years on agriculture, land and water. ...
Climate change could trim corn yields
Reuters - 11 hours ago
... scientists said in a US Department of Agriculture report released on Tuesday. The report synthesized peer-reviewed studies on how climate change would ...

Seattle Post Intelligencer
Food prices, water use to be constrained by climate change
Seattle Post Intelligencer - 16 hours ago
Ecosystems do change, even without climate change. The US Department of Agriculture's rep

Exxon to cut funding to climate change denial groups

Guardian (UK): The oil giant ExxonMobil has admitted that its support for lobby groups that question the science of climate change may have hindered action to tackle global warming. In its corporate citizenship report, released last week, ExxonMobil says it intends to cut funds to several groups that "divert attention" from the need to find new sources of clean energy.

The move comes ahead of the firm's annual meeting today in Dallas, at which prominent shareholders including the Rockefeller family will urge ExxonMobil to take the problem of climate change more seriously. Green campaigners accuse the company of funding a "climate denial industry" over the last decade, with $23m (£11.5m) handed over to groups that play down the risks of burning fossil fuels.

The ExxonMobil report says: "In 2008 we will discontinue contributions to several public policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."…

US Navy trying to clean up after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Wikimedia Commons

Snow-going robots to assist in climate change research

Gizmag: Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania State University are developing a hardy breed of autonomous robots designed to collect critical on-site data that will aid in the understanding of how climate change is [affecting] the world's ice sheets and therefore enable the creation of better climate models.

Called SnoMotes, the prototype is a 2-foot-long, 1-foot-wide child's snowmobile (chosen because they are inexpensive, expendable and ready made for abuse) to which a range of data-collection and navigation equipment has been added.

Using cameras and sensors to navigate their environment, the SnoMotes will be able to work as an autonomous team without the use of remote control. Once released from a selected base camp, the robots will collaborate to ensure that the selected research area is well covered and can venture into areas that are unsafe for humans. Two navigation systems are being developed. The first enables the robots “bid” on a desired location based on their proximity to the location and taking into consideration how well their instruments are working. The second involves a the use of a mathematical "net" that can be applied to particular research areas.

Three prototypes have so far been created to prove mobility (which is a big challenge in white-out conditions) and communications capabilities, with a full range of sensors to be added at a later date. There are also plans for larger rovers….

A generic snowmobile, shot by "pierre cb," and generously released into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Many thanks, pierre cb...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Global congress to focus on women in climate governance

OneWorldSouthAsia: Women and environment experts have raised concern over the absence of women in the discourse and debate on climate change and disaster risk reduction, both of which are global mainstream issues that are currently impacting the entire world.

The involvement of women in areas of environmental management and governance should not be perceived as an afterthought. Women's roles are of considerable importance in the promotion of environmental ethics. The current imperative is for women to understand the phenomenon of climate change and disaster risk reduction and their impacts and implications at the individual, household, community and national levels.

Studies show that women have a definite information deficit on climate politics, climate protection, and preparedness through disaster risk reduction. Only with this information can women take their proper, significant and strategic role in the issues of climate change and disaster risk reduction.

The Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP) and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) are organising the Third Global Congress of Women in Politics and Governance on October 19-22, 2008 at the Dusit Hotel, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines. The theme of the Congress is “Gender in Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction.”…

At a new water borehole at Labuje IDP camp, Kitgum, Uganda, women line up to fill their containers with water, USAID, Wikimedia Commons

Amazon Indians lead battle against power giant's plan to flood rainforest

Independent (UK): The Amazonian city of Altamira played host to one of the more uneven contests in recent Brazilian history this week, as a colourful alliance of indigenous leaders gathered to take on the might of the state power corporation and stop the construction of an immense hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Amazon.

At stake are plans to flood large areas of rainforest to make way for the huge Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu river. The government is pushing the project as a sustainable energy solution, but critics complain the environmental and social costs are too high.

For people living beside the river, the dam will bring an end to their way of life. Thousands of homes will be submerged and changes in the local ecology will wipe out the livelihoods of many more, killing their main food sources and destroying their raw materials. For the 10,000 tribal indians of the Xingu, whose lives have changed little since the arrival of Europeans five centuries ago, this will be a devastating blow….

The Xingu River shot by NASA, Wikimedia Commons. Xingu is also put to droll, unexpected use in an Edith Wharton short story.

Climate destruction will produce millions of 'envirogees'

Alternet: Chew on this word, jargon lovers. Envirogee. It carries more 21st century buzz than its semi-official designation climate refugee, which is a displaced individual who has been forced to migrate because of environmental devastation. Maybe the buzzword will catch on faster and shed some much-needed light on what will become a serious problem, probably by the end of this or the next decade. That light is crucial, because so far envirogees haven't been fully recognized by those who certify the civil liberties of Earth's various populations, whether that is the United Nations or local and national governments whose people are increasingly on the move for a whole new set of devastating reasons.

In short, immigration is about to enter a new phase, which resembles an old one with a 21st century twist. For thousands of years, humanity has fled across Earth's surface fearing instability and in search of sustainability. But that resource war has kicked into overdrive thanks to our current climate crisis -- a manufactured war with its own clock. And the clock is ticking….

Keota, Colorado, a town abandoned during the Dust Bowl in the US, shot in 1939 by Arthur Rotstein, Wikimedia Commons

US government report on the effects of climate change on agriculture, land and water resources and biodiversity

US Department of Agriculture: The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) today released "Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 (SAP 4.3): The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States." The CCSP integrates the federal research efforts of 13 agencies on climate and global change. Today's report is one of the most extensive examinations of climate impacts on U.S. ecosystems. USDA is the lead agency for this report and coordinated its production as part of its commitment to CCSP. … It is posted on the CCSP Web site at: .

The report finds that climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so. Specific findings include:

* Grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly, but increasing temperatures will increase the risk of crop failures, particularly if precipitation decreases or becomes more variable.

* Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals….

* Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and streamflow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions….

* There is a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western United States.

[plus many more…]

Methane rise points to Arctic wetlands

BBC: Higher atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas methane noted last year are probably related to emissions from wetlands, especially around the Arctic. Scientists have found indications that extra amounts of the gas in the Arctic region are of biological origin.

Global levels of methane had been roughly stable for almost a decade. Rising levels in the Arctic could mean that some of the methane stored away in permafrost is being released, which would have major climatic implications. The gas is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, though it survives for a shorter time in the atmosphere before being broken down by natural chemical processes.

Indications that methane levels might be rising after almost a decade of stability came last month, when the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) released a preliminary analysis of readings taken at monitoring stations worldwide. Noaa suggested that 2007 had seen a global rise of about 0.5%. Some stations around the Arctic showed rises of more than double that amount….

Model of a methane molecule by "King of Hearts," Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

Monday, May 26, 2008

Climate change does double-whammy to animals in seasonal environments

Science Daily: Plant-eating animals in highly seasonal environments, such as the Arctic, are struggling to locate nutritious food as a result of climate change, according to research that will be published in the 21 May 2008 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Led by Penn State Associate Professor of Biology Eric Post, the research, which focused on caribou, suggests that not only are these animals arriving at their breeding grounds too late in the season to enjoy the peak availability of food--the focus of previous research by Post--but they also are suffering from a reduced ability to locate the few high-quality plants that remain before these plants, too, become unavailable.

"This combination of time and space constraints is a double-whammy for species in highly seasonal environments," said Post. "Moving through space--across the landscape--is a strategy used by these animals to deal with shifts in the time their forage plants are available, but now climate change is really putting this strategy to the test," said Post. "Think of it like this," he added. "You've been out on the town with friends, and on the way home you want to stop off for a bite to eat, but the restaurant you've always gone to has closed early. So you try for one around the corner that's always open a little longer. But when you get to that one, it too is closed. For herbivores, the fact that there are several 'restaurants'--their food patches--dispersed across the landscape isn't useful if they all begin closing at the same time in addition to closing earlier in the season."…

A caribou, shot by Dean Biggins, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons

Climate makes Indonesia coastlines a credit risk

Jakarta Post (Indonesia): Local banks are set to tighten debt lending, particularly for real estate and property in low-lying coastal areas, an official said recently, due to fears of sea-level rise triggered by climate change. Incentive and environmental funds officer Laksmi Dhewanthi (an assistant to the deputy environment minister) told a seminar recently that many local banks were planning to reassess prices of collateral assets in coastal areas. "Banks are actively seeking details on the impacts of climate change. They are wary of a decline in prices of collateral in coastal areas," she said.

Indonesia's 81,000 kilometers of coastline are the second largest in the world. Coastal areas are home to around 60 percent of the population in Java. Many luxury hotels and other buildings have been built in such areas, as well as fisheries, oil and gas industrial sites, agriculture and tourism areas.

"With a growing awareness of climate change issues, prices of properties in coastal areas have been greatly affected. Consequently, banks plan to tighten credit risk management," Laksmi said...

Map of Indonesia from the CIA World Factbook, Wikimedia Commons

Climate change roils farming in Australia

Earth Times: ….It's all change in agriculture in Australia, with global warming and globalization the drivers. New crops are coming up, traditional farming methods being abandoned, and small farms gobbled up by bigger ones. Over the past 20 years a third of farms have closed and the land folded into enterprises that are more efficient and better able to meet the peaks and troughs that come with the long droughts and drenching rains that characterize the continent's weather.

Phillip Glyde, the head of the state-financed Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, said that even after six years of drought a quarter of the nation's 130,000 farmers had a comfortable cash income. His worries are with the 25 per cent who haven't.

There are 24,000 farmers receiving income support. Glyde is a critic of hand-outs, arguing that the state "needs to get out of the way of productive farmers" by letting inefficient ones go broke.

…Farmers are expecting bumper harvests this year as the country comes out of a six-year drought. Global shortages are raising commodity prices. National Australia Bank economist Frank Drum predicts production will be up 30 per cent and incomes will rise 43 per cent. Bill Cordingly, from major agricultural lender Rabobank, says high demand means the coming harvest will be "as good as it has been in living memory with record prices for wheat, oilseeds, feed grain and coarse grains."…

Wheat farming in Australia, circa 1915, Wikimedia Commons

Living with floods in the Mekong River delta

Just a few segments from a long article in the Bangkok Post about Vietnam’s response to flooding:….Income generation is part of a major programme introduced by the Vietnamese government in the late 1990s to enable people living in the delta to adapt to and benefit from flooding. Called "Living with Floods," the programme involved four main components.

Firstly, residential clusters were built along dykes and roads so that no more evacuation of people was needed during the flood season. Secondly, low-interest loans were given to poor people to heighten the foundations of their houses, or to build new houses on stilts to mitigate the impact of floods. Thirdly, large canals were dug to enhance flood release capacity of the river system. Fourthly, the crop calendar was shifted to allow rice farmers to harvest the summer crop before the arrival of the floods in August.

In addition to these measures, each province also introduced flood-based farming practices to improve farmers' livelihoods during the flood season. "Farmers can now grow three rice crops in the flooded areas. They also raise prawns, fish and eels in paddy fields, ponds and net cages to earn extra income," explained Kien. "In 2005, 406,937 flood-related jobs were created in the delta."

…With more than 3,000 kilometres of coastline - 700 kilometres of it in the MRD alone - Vietnam is also vulnerable to sea level rise due to climate change. A World Bank study projects that Vietnam will be one of the five most affected countries in the world. Under the most extreme scenarios, it warns that the entire southern tip of Vietnam, an area of about 40,000 square kilometres, could be inundated.

Local officials are concerned. "Flood-related disasters will increase if no preventive measures are taken," said Ms Nguyen Thi Phuc Hoa from the coastal city of Hue. "In Vietnam, sea levels have increased an average of 1-2 mm a year." … According to Ms Hoa, the Vietnamese government has already developed disaster preparedness in vulnerable communes, districts and provinces. The Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control, or CCFSC, has been set up to deal specifically with this matter. "….

The Mekong Delta from space, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Tornadoes in the US -- a selection of stories

At least eight killed by tornados in US
Belfast Telegraph, United Kingdom - 5 hours ago
At least eight people have been killed after severe thunderstorms triggered a series of tornadoes in the United States yesterday. Seven of the victims were ...
Storm results in three tornados
Bismarck Tribune, USA - 4 hours ago
By CHRIS ROSACKER Two confirmed and a third unconfirmed tornado touched down west of the Bismarck-Mandan area as part of the storms that rolled through ...

China Daily
Warnings issued as Midwest cleans up from deadly storms, Canada - 1 hour ago
The US National Weather Service is warning that severe thunderstorms are likely in Kansas, with high winds, large hail and tornados possible. ...
Two-year-old killed, eight injured after storm slams Hugo Minneapolis Star Tribune
At least 7 dead in tornado near Waterloo, Iowa Quad City Times
Death and destruction from tornadoes in Parkersburg, New Hartford ... Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier -
all 1,151 news articles »
2 Coloradans killed in Kansas tornados
Vail Daily News, CO - May 24, 2008
Two Coloradans were found dead in their car Saturday morning after a powerful tornado in Kansas blew their car off the road into a field the night before. ...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New mobile laser mapping system captures environment with unrivalled resolution and coverage

Terra Daily, from an Infoterra press release: Infoterra has launched Rapid Surveyor, a new mobile laser mapping system. Infoterra has invested in the next-generation of laser technology, specifically designed for mobile use, to enable the capture of precise information of the built/natural environment at unrivalled resolution and coverage.

For example, Rapid Surveyor can identify and accurately position assets, such as poles and road drainage features, for planning and infrastructure management. Rapid Surveyor captures an unprecedented level of high quality data with a speed of capture far faster than traditional terrestrial-based surveys....

Billions wasted on UN climate programme

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): Billions of pounds are being wasted in paying industries in developing countries to reduce climate change emissions, according to two analyses of the UN's carbon offsetting programme.

Leading academics and watchdog groups allege that the UN's main offset fund is being routinely abused by chemical, wind, gas and hydro companies who are claiming emission reduction credits for projects that should not qualify. The result is that no genuine pollution cuts are being made, undermining assurances by the UK government and others that carbon markets are dramatically reducing greenhouse gases, the researchers say.

The criticism centres on the UN's clean development mechanism (CDM), an international system established by the Kyoto process that allows rich countries to meet emissions targets by funding clean energy projects in developing nations. Credits from the project are being bought by European companies and governments who are unable to meet their carbon reduction targets.

…A working paper from two senior Stanford University academics examined more than 3,000 projects applying for or already granted up to $10bn of credits from the UN's CDM funds over the next four years, and concluded that the majority should not be considered for assistance. "They would be built anyway," says David Victor, law professor at the Californian university. "It looks like between one and two thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts."

Governments consider that CDM is vital to reducing global emissions under the terms of the Kyoto treaty. To earn credits under the mechanism, emission reductions must be in addition to those that would have taken place without the project. But critics argue this "additionality" is impossible to prove and open to abuse. The Stanford paper, by Victor and his colleague Michael Wara, found that nearly every new hydro, wind and natural gas-fired plant expected to be built in China in the next four years is applying for CDM credits, even though it is Chinese policy to encourage these industries….

Smokestack at Cornell University's heating plant, shot by "mhaithaca," Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-alike 2.0 Generic license

California losing more than 30,700 acres of forestland per year

The Forest Foundation: California has lost forests on federally owned land at the rate of more than 30,700 acres per year over the last seven years because of a lack of replanting following catastrophic forest fires, according to a review of Forest Service data by The Forest Foundation and the National Association of Forest Service Retirees.

The 30,700 acres lost annually is equivalent to losing a forest slightly larger than a city the size of San Francisco. If this failure to reforest federal land in California were to continue over the next 100 years, this would lead to the loss of 3 million acres of forestland and conversion into brush fields.

From 2001 to 2007, over 143,500 acres of forestland outside wilderness owned by the federal government has not been replanted and has been left to turn into brush. "The federal government is consistently unable to replant and restore forests following devastating wildfires," said Doug Piirto, department head for the Natural Resources Management Department at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo and a member of the Forest Foundation's Scientific Advisory Panel….

The Zaca fire in California, 2007, Wikimedia Commons

An explanation

A beautiful holiday Sunday. Dappled light on the lawn, a heron dining on frogs in the pond, undisturbed by the beaver doing figure-eights. Looking for something to blog about, getting nowhere. My wife walks by, notices my problem. She explains why I'm having trouble: "The weather's too good."

Lots of holiday rain in Midwestern US -- a selection of stories

Black Hills Today
Weekend forecast: Wet West, Stormy center, Mild East
USA Today - May 23, 2008
By Sunday the threat will diminish, but some storms could still flare up in the upper Midwest. Indianapolis, however, should stay dry for the big race on ...
Severe Storms Return to Plains
all 11 news articles »

Severe Mess Through Memorial Day - 11 hours ago
More severe storms will be possible in the Plains and portions of the Midwest today into Memorial Day. Anyone in these regions should stay tuned to local ...
Saturday 7:20 AM Thunderstorms Approaching then Summer is Here ... KSPR
Clouds Linger, But Sunny Weekend! Indiana's NewsCenter
Fred's Weather: Don't need no money Asbury Park Press
all 370 news articles »

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Germany bans chemicals linked to honeybee devastation

Common Dreams: Germany has banned a family of pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used in rapeseed oil and sweetcorn. The move follows reports from German beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg region that two thirds of their bees died earlier this month following the application of a pesticide called clothianidin.

“It’s a real bee emergency,” said Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeepers’ Association. “50-60% of the bees have died on average and some beekeepers have lost all their hives.” Tests on dead bees showed that 99% of those examined had a build-up of clothianidin. The chemical, produced by Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Bayer, is sold in Europe under the trade name Poncho. It was applied to the seeds of sweetcorn planted along the Rhine this spring. The seeds are treated in advance of being planted or are sprayed while in the field.

The company says an application error by the seed company which failed to use the glue-like substance that sticks the pesticide to the seed, led to the chemical getting into the air. Bayer spokesman Dr Julian Little told the BBC’s Farming Today that misapplication is highly unusual. “It is an extremely rare event and has not been seen anywhere else in Europe,” he said….

Honey bee shot by Charles Lam of Hong Kong, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License (cc-by-sa-2.0)

Risk modeling firm becomes partner in climate change initiative

Insurance Journal: Newark, Calif.-based Risk Management Solutions (RMS) has become a partner in the Resilient Coasts Initiative, a collaboration led by Ceres and the Heinz Center. RMS will contribute technical expertise on climate-driven catastrophe risk and adaptation modeling.

The Resilient Coasts Initiative is a collaboration between private and public sector groups to address the need for climate adaptation in the coastal regions of the United States. The goal of the initiative is to develop public policy and private market solutions to help protect coastal communities from rising sea levels and other potentially damaging consequences of climate change.

"It is vital that coastal communities continue to be protected in the face of rising hazard. The Resilient Coasts Initiative will focus key players in government, insurance, finance, and the building industry on creating a blueprint for action supported at the highest level within
these sectors," commented Dr. Celine Herweijer, director of the RMS Climate Change Practice....

Drought persists in Australia's Murray-Darling river basin

Sydney Morning Herald: Drought conditions in the Murray-Darling basin remain critical, as state and federal water ministers met to examine its continuing impact. Good rains to the north of the basin have all but stopped in recent months and the water flows in the south are again heading towards last year's record lows.

The Federal Government confirmed that plans to buy back 35 billion litres of water formed the first part of a $3.1 billion strategy to purchase more permanent water licences over the next decade....

Map of the Murray Darling basin by Adam Carr, Wikimedia Commons

Chesapeake Bay in danger from sea level rise

Baltimore Sun: More than half the beaches on Maryland's Eastern Shore will be destroyed over this century by rising sea levels driven by global warming, a new report concludes. The study by the National Wildlife Federation says the outlook wouldn't be as bad if local governments hadn't allowed so much development along the shoreline, preventing beaches from shifting inland as water levels rise.

As more people build condos, roads and rock walls along the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic seaboard, the rising sea levels will shrink the amount of space remaining for beaches and wetlands. And diamondback terrapin and other animals will be devastated by the loss of habitat, the report says.

"This report shows just how vulnerable the Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure, is to global warming," said Beth McGee, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Global warming threatens the very way of life and existence of watermen communities."

The report is based on calculations by a United Nations panel of climate experts that predict global sea levels will rise up to 27 inches by the year 2100. The accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere - mostly from industry - is acting like an insulating blanket around the Earth, melting glaciers and expanding the volume of water in the oceans.

…A consultant for the National Wildlife Foundation took the projections and used a computerized model to calculate what they could mean for marshes and shorelines around the Chesapeake Bay....

The Thomas Point Lighthouse, Chesapeake Bay, shot by Pete Milnes of the US Coast Guard, Wikimedia Commons

Vast cracks appear in Arctic ice

BBC: Dramatic evidence of the break-up of the Arctic ice-cap has emerged from research during an expedition by the Canadian military. Scientists travelling with the troops found major new fractures during an assessment of the state of giant ice shelves in Canada's far north.

The team found a network of cracks that stretched for more than 10 miles (16km) on Ward Hunt, the area's largest shelf. The fate of the vast ice blocks is seen as a key indicator of climate change.

One of the expedition's scientists, Derek Mueller of Trent University, Ontario, told me: "I was astonished to see these new cracks. "It means the ice shelf is disintegrating, the pieces are pinned together like a jigsaw but could float away," Dr Mueller explained. According to another scientist on the expedition, Dr Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa, the new cracks fit into a pattern of change in the Arctic.

Arctic Ocean, the CIA World Factbook, Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 23, 2008

A model for health and climate change

From Environmental, an abstract of a paper from the European Commission, Environment DG: The impacts of climate change on human health are projected to be severe and widespread. A reliable model or software tool is needed to help quantify these impacts so that policies can be developed to mitigate against them. A recent report suggests that newly developed systems-based models need to be further expanded to allow greater quantification of climate-health relationships.

Most research on the impacts of climate change has focused on environmental impacts rather than health impacts. Models are currently available which measure the potential impacts of climate change on water resources, agriculture, coastal zones and other sectors, but there is no well-developed tool for health.

…Modelling the health impacts of diseases such as malaria is complex because a wide range of factors can influence its incidence and geographic range, such as drug resistance and economic and technological development. Current projections of the impacts of climate change on malaria take limited account of these drivers, with some projections identifying populations at risk instead of the number and location of people likely to be affected. Future models should calculate the full health burden so that proposed polices can be weighed against their consequences.

…The author writes that one of the main factors limiting the development of a model of the effects of climate change on health is the priorities of healthcare funders, who have shown little interest in interdisciplinary approaches that seek to explore, for example, the interactions of climate change and the impact of land use change on health.

Shot of a clinical thermometer by "Menchi," Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2