Saturday, June 30, 2007

Adaptation in Belize

The Reporter (Belize): A United Nations report has shown Belize is one of the Caribbean nations, most likely to suffer should there continue to be major shifts in the climate. It’s not an issue to be taken lightly says the National Meteorological Department.

On Tuesday the World Wildlife Foundation launched its Climate Change Public Awareness Campaign at the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute on Princess Margaret Drive in Belize City. The campaign seeks to sensitise the public on the importance of environmental protection and the need for everyone to take stewardship so generations will be able to enjoy the environment.

Several speakers presented research-based information as to what would become of Belize should it be affected by the inevitable change in weather conditions and what measures can be taken to lessen the effect. One of those presenters was Meteorologist, Ramon Frutos from the National Meteorolgy Department. “A global climate change will have a significant adverse impact on biodiversity as well as human livelihood and that is to start with.” Frutos said there are already signs in the air to confirm what the computers have projected and the warm nights is only one of those signs.

“No doubt we can all feel the nights getting hotter and it will get worse, with the dry season occurring longer.” The dry seasons alone have other impli-cations said Kenrick Leslie, Ph.D., who sits as the Executive Director, of the CARICOM Climatic Change Centre. “The dry season will mean more sunlight and that will mean warmer waters, which means we will have high tides, leading to flooding after little rainfall.”

He also supported Frutos’ take on biodiversity being affected and added that Belize is not an isolated case. “The weather affects the entire Caribbean and the species that live in this area, will either move away or die.” Perhaps if the imagery of fish and other animals dying by the thousands is not scary enough, Leslie said we may want to consider how that will affect our diet. The ‘inconvenient truth’ is that with an already unexplained scarcity of some fruits and vegetables at peak season in Belize, our food security will certainly be threatened…

Real Climate takes an advance look at Chris Mooney's "Storm World"

The experts at Real Climate like Chris Mooney’s new book: If you are a RealClimate regular, you are undoubtedly aware of our ongoing interest in the developments in the scientific understanding of potential hurricane-climate change linkages. This is an area of the science where a substantial body of significant new research has emerged even since RealClimate's inception in late 2004. The scientific research in this area, and the media frenzy and political theatrics that have inescapably followed it, are thoughtfully placed in a broader historical context in a fascinating new book by Chris Mooney entitled Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming. Anyone who is at all interested in the scientific history that has led to our current understanding of Hurricanes and their potential linkages with climate change, will find this book a page turner. The book is a nice complement to Kerry Emanuel's recent book Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes (which too is so readable that it lies on our coffee table). Mooney in a sense picks up where Emanuel's left off. Like Emanuel, he explores the history of the science. But he uses this historical context, and his studies of the personalities of key actors, to explore how the current scientific debate can be traced back to a rift that has emerged over many decades between distinct communities of atmospheric scientists.

[Some detailed observations on the book and well-informed kibitzing from the comments section.]

How the US government ignored its own Gulf Coast hurricane plans

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a new report, The Best Laid Plans: The Story of How the Government Ignored Its Own Gulf Coast Hurricane Plans, detailing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) plan to respond to a hurricane of Katrina’s magnitude and its subsequent failure to implement that plan.

On September 7, 2005, CREW sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which FEMA is a component, seeking records related to the federal government’s long-term planning for a hurricane on the Gulf Coast as well as its immediate preparations for and response to Hurricane Katrina. In January 2006, CREW sued to force DHS to comply with the FOIA. The Best Laid Plans is based on the 7,500 records DHS provided in response to CREW’s lawsuit.

Critically, CREW found that FEMA had created a “Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Plan” (SLCHP), which forecast a range of specific consequences, including:

* New Orleans would be flooded with 14-17 feet of water, the levee system inundated with at least 10 feet of water and the hurricane would move into Mississippi;

* One million people would evacuate, but flooding would trap at least 250-350,000; and

* Each hurricane victim would require a minimum of two Meals Ready to Eat, one gallon of water and eight pounds of ice per day.

The SLCHP included plans to:

* Evacuate residents and position resources pre-hurricane;

* Provide power, water and ice to hurricane victims; and

* Provide short-term shelter and longer-term temporary housing.

Nevertheless, despite the comprehensive SLCHP, post-Katrina FEMA documents demonstrate that the plan was never implemented. On August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina hit, FEMA Deputy Director Patrick Rhode sent an email to Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks Altshuler and Michael Heath, Special Assistant to FEMA Director Michael Brown, with the subject line, “copy of New Orleans cat plan” stating, “I never got one – I think Brown got my copy – did you get one?”

CREW also found that the catastrophe was impacted by:

* Significant funding cuts to federal flood control and the Army Corps of Engineers budget for hurricane protection for the Lake Pontchartrain region;

* Communications problems between key personnel that impeded coordination of overall relief efforts; and

* Lack of a mechanism for fielding and distributing donations and offers of assistance.

Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director said, “CREW’s report catalogues the government’s failures in responding to the most significant natural disaster ever faced by the United States.” Sloan continued, “The next national emergency -- whether another natural disaster or a terrorist attack -- undoubtedly will require both adequate preparation and competent execution; based on the findings in this report, what confidence can the American people have that our government will be ready to face those challenges?”

Complex new emergencies create adaptation challenge

Relief Web: Climate-change impacts are creating new complex emergencies around the world, above all in Africa, according to speakers at a conference in The Hague organized by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. The rapid succession of drought-flood-drought was causing almost permanent disaster conditions in some parts of Africa, according to Abdishakur Othowai, drought project manager at the Kenya Red Cross. Large numbers of people were being displaced and ending up in camps, where the HIV rate then soared.

"Once people would have thought all this was an act of God," Othowai added, "but it’s been going on for ten years now and they’re saying the weather has changed, the climate has changed." "There is no single, normal season; no cropping season for farmers. "Our policy now is to tell people that we have to adapt because this phenomenon will be with us for a very long time."

Opening the conference, on "the humanitarian consequences of climate change", International Federation deputy secretary general Ibrahim Osman said global warming had also "intensified conflict and tension in places like Darfur" and was now "a International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement issue".

The Red Cross Red Crescent, according to Osman, had always focused on humanitarian consequences rather than the scientific debate about the role of carbon emissions. Climate change would be prominent on the agenda of the Movement’s international conference this November, he said, where spreading knowledge about vulnerabilities and pledging more resources would be "the two main pillars."

…Many environmental organizations were already campaigning on carbon emissions, said Helmer, but hardly anyone was looking seriously at what climate-change impacts were doing to vulnerable people in poor countries.

…The conference, which ended yesterday, brought together Red Cross and Red Crescent disaster managers from the regions of the world most affected by climate-change impacts, including the small-island nations of the Pacific and Caribbean, and Africa, Asia and the Americas, as well as European Societies, the International Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

…"Disasters are translating themselves into chronic situations," said Ian Burton, a scientific adviser to the Climate Centre and a leading contributor to "Working Group II" – on impacts and adaptation – of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There was an urgent need for "a long-term strategy".

"We have to adapt everything," he said.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Heat wave in Greece

Voice of America News: Authorities in Greece say the longest heat wave ever recorded in the country has killed at least 10 people in the past week, including two firefighters trapped early Thursday north of Athens.

Two other men escaped the inferno that continued to lay waste to heavily-forested areas in the center of the country. Authorities told Reuters that firefighters already hampered by strong northerly winds also are encountering exploding World War II ordnance in forests north of the capital.

Elsewhere in southeastern Europe, Romanian officials say 32 people have died since June 19 from the scorching heat, including two women who died of heart attacks in the country's northeast.

Violent storms hit much of the country Wednesday, bringing some relief from the 45 degree Celsius temperatures in and near Bucharest Tuesday.

Climate threat to agriculture in EU

Cordis News: What are the major challenges facing European agriculture? And how can research help farmers and the wider rural community meet these challenges? These questions were at the heart of a conference on the future of agricultural research held in Brussels on 26 and 27 June.

The starting point of the event was the outcome of a foresight process carried out by the EU's Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR). A Foresight Expert Group, set up in June 2006, developed scenarios based on the factors most likely to disrupt European agriculture over the next 20 years.

In the climate shock scenario, an acceleration of environmental impacts related to climate change seriously disrupts European agriculture. The second scenario foresees an energy crisis, where Europe's lack of investments in bioenergies leaves it facing severe energy shortages when the oil price skyrockets.

A food crisis scenario envisages a world where global agriculture is faced with the challenge of providing sufficient, safe food for the growing world population. Finally, a 'cooperation with nature' scenario offers a more optimistic vision of the future, in which society and technology work together to ensure sustainable development at all levels.

The authors of the foresight report note that by 'disruption' they mean fast change, resulting in both positive and negative changes. 'Therefore the main challenge facing agro-food actors is the speed of adaptation and proactive responses to secure a European lead in this area,' they write.

..To help agriculture meet these challenges, research is needed into the secondary effects of climate change, such as diseases and extreme events, as well as into management methods and technologies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.

…However, one clear message coming from the conference was that it is not enough to carry out research; the knowledge generated must be turned into products and applications and reach farmers and other stakeholders in a form that they are able to use in their decision making and activities.

'We need the same thing as other businesses - access to research results,' said Giacomo Ballari, President of the European Council of Young Farmers. 'We need a common platform where researchers and farmers can meet.'

'We need a research environment which stimulates innovation and mechanisms for the rapid transfer of knowledge into applications,' added Jim Scudamore of the European Technology Platform for Global Animal Health.

The conference proceedings will be added to the other outcomes of the foresight process, which will feed into a report by the European Commission on the coordination of agricultural research in Europe. The report will be presented to the European Parliament and Council in 2008.

UK infrastructure damage from flooding

Guardian, UK: The government was today accused of underestimating the scale of the floods that have swamped many parts of Britain after new figures showed as many as 3,500 people have been rescued by the fire service in the past few days.

The rescue effort was described as the biggest in peacetime Britain as another body, the sixth, was pulled from flood waters. Police divers recovered the body after reports that a man, believed to have been aged around 60, had fallen from a dinghy in Torksey, Lincolnshire.

Official data revealed that the fire service received more than 7,300 calls to flood-related incidents on Monday and Tuesday in England and Wales. The majority of the incidents were in Humberside, Yorkshire, Shropshire, Nottinghamshire and Gloucestershire….The Fire Brigades Union said its own research revealed that fire crews were working "to the point of collapse".

"The government has not understood the scale, gravity and severity of what has happened," the union's general secretary, Matt Wrack, said. "We have witnessed the biggest rescue effort in peacetime Britain by our emergency services, and it's not over yet.

Today, the head of the Environment Agency, Lady Young, described this week's floods as "a one in 150-year event". "No amount of flood defence preparation can withstand these very extreme events," she told the BBC. "We need more investment in flood defences and to think hard about building on flood plains."

She said this week's havoc was not caused by the failure of flood defences but by their "overtopping".

Mark Whyman, the assistant chief constable of South Yorkshire police, called for people to save electricity and share cars to reduce the strain on the county's "significantly damaged" infrastructure. He said the utility companies were working to restore services and some roads had "structural problems which would take some time to repair".

Monsoon aftermath in Pakistan

International Herald Tribune, via AP: Hungry victims of monsoon-spawned floods in southwestern Pakistan rioted Friday, protesting slow, meager aid for their marooned villages, where many feared the receding waters would yield numerous corpses.

Police fired tear gas and shots into the air but failed to disperse a crowd of several thousand villagers who broke into and ransacked the mayor's office in Turbat, a city ringed by floodwaters.

The widespread flooding struck after Cyclone Yemyin dumped torrential rains on Baluchistan province on Tuesday. Khubah Bakhsh, the relief commissioner for Baluchistan, estimated that more than 800,000 people had been affected by the floods and 200,000 houses had been destroyed or damaged.

The protesters said they had waded through chest-deep water from outlying areas to voice their anger over the dearth of relief aid. Only packets of biscuits and bottles of water had been received, they said. "Every family is looking for one or two members. They are all missing," said Chaker Baloth, who walked more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) through the night to reach Turbat, a city of about 150,000. Many feared they would never see their missing family members again.

"I don't know if there are more fish or bodies in the Mirani Dam," a local official said about the vastly expanded lake behind the dam which engulfed many communities about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Turbat. Military helicopters continued to drop relief supplies, but many of the victims appeared to have received little or nothing. Many were stranded in high open areas or on roofs in 10 districts of the province.

The government said the official death toll in Baluchistan was 14, with more than 24 missing, although local media reported much higher numbers.

…Twenty people also died in flash floods Thursday in the northwestern Khyber Agency tribal region, government official Ilyas Khan said. Floods damaged several bridges in the region, forcing a temporary suspension of the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees through North West Frontier Province, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday. More than 2 million Afghans still live in camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border, having fled decades of conflict in their country.

Flooding in Texas

Kansas City Star, via AP: More rain fell Thursday in parts of Texas, and residents were bracing for even more of the downpours that have killed 11 people in recent days. Officials reported calls for dozens of rescues in San Antonio, and hundreds of people were being ordered to leave their homes near the bloated Brazos River in northern Texas.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, acting as governor while Gov. Rick Perry is out of the country, surveyed damage Thursday in the lakeside community of Marble Falls, which received 18 inches of rain early Wednesday. No one was killed, but there were 32 water rescues and widespread damage. “I haven’t seen so much destruction since I was on the ground right after Hurricane Rita,” Dewhurst said. “What these folks need is just a break in the rain and a chance to dry out.”

..Overnight rainfall in central Texas was far short of the 10 inches that was forecast, but more was expected, and flash flood warnings were in effect. Storm systems near Austin and San Antonio were expected to dump as much as 10 inches Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

…In San Antonio, 47 streets were closed, and authorities received 39 calls for rescues, although it was unclear how many people were rescued, said Sandy Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the city Emergency Operations Center.

Carbon-Based Travel: An Observation

What struck me the most about climate change adaptation while traveling? A long delay getting bags from the airline at JFK. We had landed, disembarked, cleared customs. But the baggage handlers could not extract the bags from the hold because of electrocution risk. A thunderstorm with plenty of lightning held the bags hostage. Plenty of time to think jet-lagged thoughts about the topic of this blog.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Carbon-Based Travels

Some traveling will make posts spotty on Carbon-Based for the next two weeks.

Call for an International Climate Agenda for Congress

Center for American Progress: As Congress begins a summer of important debates on the future of American energy policy, it is vital that it take into consideration the devastating impact high energy costs and climate change associated with our use of fossil fuels are having on the world’s most vulnerable populations. Notwithstanding the difficulty in changing the president’s views on these matters, it would be a strategic failure if Congress does not take this opportunity to push for American leadership on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and offer the most vulnerable communities in the world the support they need to combat the impacts of climate change and transition into a low-carbon global economy.

…The industrialized world, led by the United States, needs to ensure that those most responsible for climate change help those least able to deal with global warming.

…Compared with global development assistance dollars that target energy and environment projects—an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion annually—a carbon-trading system with dedicated international offsets can channel significant funds to the energy sectors in the countries that will be hit hardest by climate change. The United States, which is not a signatory of the Kyoto Accord, should carefully consider how to design its domestic emission regulation to optimize the transfer of capital and technology to the most vulnerable countries. Here are our recommendations:

1. The Government Accountability Office should evaluate what steps, if any, U.S. government agencies (including the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture) can take to assess the impact of climate change on the sustainability of U.S. overseas development assistance and other development investments.

2. Congress should mandate any new foreign assistance under the Foreign Operations law consider whether such aid will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, and whether steps need to be taken to boost the sustainability of new foreign aid given likely impact of climate change in project-feasibility assessments.

3. Congress and the Bush administration need to redirect existing programs to promote U.S. exports that encourage the development of new and innovative energy sources that will ensure new energy development is low carbon.

Specifically, a clutch of federal agencies and programs in Washington should take these key steps:

Export-Import Bank. Congress should mandate that a percentage of all EX-IM Bank credit be extended to projects that are clean-energy related. Such a target is currently used to guarantee that small business receive at least 20 percent of all Ex-IM Bank credit. Congress could create a facility at EX-IM dedicated solely to clean energy projects in least developed countries. Congress should also authorize EX-IM to pursue partnerships with private banks on clean energy projects, and restore the Office of Renewable Energy at the EX-IM Bank that is charged with identifying credit-worthy clean energy projects.

Department of Treasury. Congress should extend EX-IM loan repayment time for clean energy projects by negotiating the necessary changes to the existing OECD financing arrangement. Congress should require the Department of the Treasury to coordinate the Export Credit Agency policies of countries around the world to facilitate funding for clean energy projects. ECAs account for $75 billion to $90 billion of investment per year.

Department of Commerce. Congress should provide funding for the Department of Commerce to hire new Foreign Commercial Service Officers in least developed countries who are responsible for facilitating local clean-energy projects with U.S. businesses.

U.S. Trade and Development Assistance. Congress should increase funding for TDA projects to promote environmental and energy technology market access for least developed countries.

U.S. Trade Representative. Congress should mandate that special provisions for investments in clean energy and carbon finance be created within the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions required to avoid dangerous increases in heat stress, researchers say, via Purdue University News: A study led by Purdue University researcher projects a 200 percent to 500 percent increase in the number of dangerously hot days in the Mediterranean by the end of the 21st century if the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions continues. The study found France would be subjected to the largest projected increase of high-temperature extremes. The study also showed a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could reduce the intensification of dangerously hot days projected in the scenario by up to 50 percent.

"Rare events today, like the 2003 heat wave in Europe, will become much more common as greenhouse gas concentrations increase," said Noah Diffenbaugh, the Purdue assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences who led the study. "The frequency at which that scale of event occurs at high greenhouse gas concentrations is staggering. Rare events become the norm, and the extreme events of the future are unprecedented in their severity."

A 2003 heat wave led to 15,000 deaths in France and almost 3,000 in Italy. The researchers found that global warming causes summer temperatures to dramatically exceed the range that was correlated with the increased number of deaths.

"The thresholds of the 2003 event are substantially exceeded in the future in both of our research scenarios," said Diffenbaugh, who is a member of Purdue's Climate Change Research Center. "This research is about understanding the response to different emissions levels. We find that decreases in greenhouse gas emissions greatly reduce the impact, but we see negative effects even with reduced emissions. Technological and behavioral changes that are made now will have a big influence on what actually happens in the future."

In addition to the human health risks, extremely high temperatures could impact the economy of this region, which includes metropolitan areas such as Rome, Paris and Barcelona, said Jeremy Pal, co-researcher and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Loyola Marymount University. The study covered the entire Mediterranean area, which includes 21 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. Major cities covered in the study include: Prague, Zurich, Bucharest, Athens, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Algiers and Casablanca.

"When high temperature extremes increase, it could have significant negative impacts on human health, water resources, agriculture and energy demand," Pal said.

…"The hottest temperatures we are used to experiencing will become the normal temperatures of the summer, and the hot periods will be magnified," Diffenbaugh said. "Take Paris: If we look at the temperatures that occurred there during the heat wave in 2003, when 15,000 people died, those temperatures are exceeded a couple dozen times every year in the future projection. That means that severe heat waves, such as those rare events that have occurred in the past couple of years, are likely to become far more common."

….This research was funded by the Italy-USA collaborative agreement on climate change research and in part by the National Science Foundation.

The Purdue Climate Change Research Center is affiliated with Purdue's Discovery Park. The center promotes and organizes research and education on global climate change and studies its impact on agriculture, natural ecosystems and society. It was established in 2004 to support Purdue in research and education on regional scale climate change, its impacts and mitigation, and adaptation strategies. The center serves as a hub for a range of activities beyond scientific research, including teaching, public education and the development of public policy recommendations.

Banks at risk from environmentally unfriendly companies

Environmental Data Interactive (UK): Financial institutions put their reputations at risk if they invest in companies which have a negative impact on the environment, according to a new report. That is the view held by the majority of banks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) surveyed for Biodiversity, the Next Challenge for Financial Institutions published by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) this month.

Ivo Mulder, the report's author, said: "Continuous decline of global species diversity is not only leading to more concerned conservationists - the private sector is also starting to feel the implications. Financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, need to be able to determine which of their client companies are at greatest risk, in order to avoid taking on the same risks themselves through their lending, investment and insurance activities."

The report surveyed 26 commercial and investment banks, NGOs and other stakeholders. Two thirds believe the financial sector risks its reputation if it invests in companies which have a detrimental impact on ecosystems.

Increased pressure from NGOs, more government regulation to protect the environment and rising consumer expectations mean financial institutions must take more heed of biodiversity, the study found.

It highlights the introduction of the EU Environmental Liability Directive in April, which makes companies liable for damage to flora and fauna, water resources and natural habitats and forces them to pay for damages. The potential financial implications are significant not only for companies using these resources, it says, but also banks and insurance companies.

In 2004 Associated British Ports lost 10% of its share price after the government rejected plans for a new container terminal on the south coast. One of the major reasons was the potential impact on surrounding wildlife. "There needs to be a big effort to make the financial sector more aware of biodiversity issues," said Mr Mulder. "Perhaps a Stern-like review of the economic costs of biodiversity loss and the financial benefits of conservation could be one trigger."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

First Buoy to Monitor Ocean Acidification Launched, via the National Science Foundation: The first buoy to monitor ocean acidification has been launched in the Gulf of Alaska. Attached to the 10-foot-diameter buoy are sensors to measure climate indicators. Acidification is a result of carbon dioxide absorbed by the seas.

"The instruments will measure the air-sea exchange of carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen gas in addition to the pH, a measure of ocean acidity, of the surface waters," said Steven Emerson of the University of Washington, the project's lead scientist. "This is the first system specifically designed to monitor ocean acidification."

The buoy is anchored in water nearly 5,000 meters deep. Once it hit the water, the buoy immediately began to transmit data via satellite. The buoy is part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to oceanographers at the University of Washington and Oregon State University, working in collaboration with scientists at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), and at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C.

"Information from this buoy will lead to a better understanding of ocean acidification--a growing threat to the world's oceans--by helping scientists determine exactly how physical and biological processes affect carbon dioxide in the north Pacific Ocean," said Fred Lipschultz, program director in NSF's division of ocean sciences. The grant was funded through NSF's Biocomplexity in the Environment emphasis area on Carbon and Water in the Earth System.

The goal of the research is to examine how ocean circulation and ecosystems interact to determine how much carbon dioxide the north Pacific Ocean absorbs each year. "The Gulf of Alaska region is particularly important because it is likely to be one of the first regions to feel the impacts of ocean acidification," said Christopher Sabine, a PMEL oceanographer.

"This a significant step in furthering our understanding of how the ocean is reacting to carbon dioxide, as well as an important addition to the growing Global Ocean Observing System of Systems, which incorporates the best technology to provide the best science to help decision makers and the general public," said Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator of NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

Human cost will force countries to focus on climate change If the "human cost" of climate change is calculated, countries will be forced to sit up and take notice, according to a former senior United Nations official.

"Most people are unable to relate to the projections of increase in temperature or the impact of climate change on the economy, but if the climate change forecasts are linked to possible deaths, then countries will be forced to contemplate prevention plans," said Yvette Stevens, the former UN Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator.

"We need a 'Stern review' of the human costs; people are not motivated by the impact of climate change on a country's gross domestic product (GDP)," added Stevens, who retired from the UN recently.

The 'Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change', prepared by economist Nicholas Stern for the British government in 2006, said if countries did not check their greenhouse emissions, the overall costs of climate change would be equivalent to losing at least five percent of global GDP each year. It calculated the cost of reducing emissions to avoid the worst impact of climate change at one percent of global GDP annually.

Climate change projections and forecasts so far have failed to move most countries to draft a national plan of action. Molly Hellmuth, a scientist with the United States-based International Research Institute for Climate and Society, pointed out that only a handful of 49 least-developed countries (LDCs) had drawn up National Adaptation Programmes of Action, as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "Most LDCs lack the capacity to draft the plans; they have other development priorities."

Developing countries need funds to improve capacity, and adding up the human cost would bring in the money, Stevens argued, as it did in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. More than 220,000 people were estimated to have been killed by the gigantic waves, which prompted an unprecedented US$1,000 per head of aid. "Deaths make people put pressure on their governments, forcing them to take action, to plan or to fund responses."

According to 'Adapting to climate change: What's needed in poor countries, and who should pay', a recent briefing paper by British development agency Oxfam, "Based on new approaches to scaling up costs, we estimate the cost will be at least $50 billion each year, and far higher if greenhouse-gas emissions are not cut rapidly." This is well above the World Bank's estimate of $10-40 billion annually...

World oil supplies are set to run out faster than expected, warn scientists

The Independent (UK): Scientists have criticised a major review of the world's remaining oil reserves, warning that the end of oil is coming sooner than governments and oil companies are prepared to admit. BP's Statistical Review of World Energy, published yesterday, appears to show that the world still has enough "proven" reserves to provide 40 years of consumption at current rates. The assessment, based on officially reported figures, has once again pushed back the estimate of when the world will run dry.

However, scientists led by the London-based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, say that global production of oil is set to peak in the next four years before entering a steepening decline which will have massive consequences for the world economy and the way that we live our lives.

According to "peak oil" theory our consumption of oil will catch, then outstrip our discovery of new reserves and we will begin to deplete known reserves. Colin Campbell, the head of the depletion centre, said: "It's quite a simple theory and one that any beer drinker understands. The glass starts full and ends empty and the faster you drink it the quicker it's gone."

Dr Campbell, is a former chief geologist and vice-president at a string of oil majors including BP, Shell, Fina, Exxon and ChevronTexaco. He explains that the peak of regular oil - the cheap and easy to extract stuff - has already come and gone in 2005. Even when you factor in the more difficult to extract heavy oil, deep sea reserves, polar regions and liquid taken from gas, the peak will come as soon as 2011, he says.

This scenario is flatly denied by BP, whose chief economist Peter Davies has dismissed the arguments of "peak oil" theorists. "We don't believe there is an absolute resource constraint. When peak oil comes, it is just as likely to come from consumption peaking, perhaps because of climate change policies as from production peaking."

In recent years the once-considerable gap between demand and supply has narrowed. Last year that gap all but disappeared. The consequences of a shortfall would be immense. If consumption begins to exceed production by even the smallest amount, the price of oil could soar above $100 a barrel. A global recession would follow.

Jeremy Legget, like Dr Campbell, is a geologist-turned conservationist whose book Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis brought " peak oil" theory to a wider audience. He compares industry and government reluctance to face up to the impending end of oil, to climate change denial. "It reminds me of the way no one would listen for years to scientists warning about global warming," he says. "We were predicting things pretty much exactly as they have played out. Then as now we were wondering what it would take to get people to listen."

…BP's Statistical Review is the most widely used estimate of world oil reserves but as Dr Campbell points out it is only a summary of highly political estimates supplied by governments and oil companies. As Dr Campbell explains: "When I was the boss of an oil company I would never tell the truth. It's not part of the game."

A survey of the four countries with the biggest reported reserves - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait - reveals major concerns. In Kuwait last year, a journalist found documents suggesting the country's real reserves were half of what was reported. Iran this year became the first major oil producer to introduce oil rationing - an indication of the administration's view on which way oil reserves are going….

* A reduction of as little as 10 to 15 per cent could cripple oil-dependent industrial economies. In the 1970s, a reduction of just 5 per cent caused a price increase of more than 400 per cent.

* Most farming equipment is either built in oil-powered plants or uses diesel as fuel. Nearly all pesticides and many fertilisers are made from oil.

* Most plastics, used in everything from computers and mobile phones to pipelines, clothing and carpets, are made from oil-based substances.

* Manufacturing requires huge amounts of fossil fuels. The construction of a single car in the US requires, on average, at least 20 barrels of oil.

* Most renewable energy equipment requires large amounts of oil to produce.

* Metal production - particularly aluminium - cosmetics, hair dye, ink and many common painkillers all rely on oil.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Idaho water chief: shutoffs will be enforced

Idaho Idaho Water Resources Director David Tuthill said Tuesday he is prepared to use sheriffs or Idaho State Police officers if necessary to shut off pumps irrigating 22,000 acres of crops in the Magic Valley this week.

Food processing plants, 13 cities and dozens of dairies also would lose access to groundwater under Tuthill’s order to meet the demand of two trout producers. Overall, the curtailment could directly cost Idaho’s economy more than $28 million this year, based on Tuthill’s estimate.

Tuthill told the Legislature’s interim natural resources committee Tuesday he still hoped to avoid what would be the largest curtailment of water rights in the state’s history. But talks Friday between groundwater users and the two fish companies failed to bridge their differences over when and how to hold a hearing based on the state’s first-come, first-served water laws.

“We have no desire to curtail, but will do so if required by state law,” Tuthill said.

If Tuthill goes ahead with the curtailment, he’s confident that cities, most businesses and farmers will follow the law. Farmers would get a letter ordering them to shut off their pumps by a cutoff date.

After that, the state has remote monitoring technology to see who is not complying. Farmers would face a $300-per-acre fine for ignoring Tuthill’s order. “We aren’t looking for confrontations in people’s back yards,” Tuthill said. But the state has called in county sheriffs in the past to enforce water laws and could even call in the Idaho State Police, Tuthill said. “This is not something, I suspect, where we bring out the National Guard,” Tuthill said.

In times of drought, users with newer, junior rights are forced to stop using water. This is routine among competing surface water users but has never been carried out against groundwater users.

Shutting down pumps in the middle of the growing season would be the worst-case scenario in the continuing water dispute between groundwater users and surface water users who depend on water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The aquifer is an underground water source the size of Lake Erie that spreads from Ashton west to King Hill…

Where politicians and academics converge on climate change

It’s Getting Hot in Here: …Global warming warnings are being trumpeted for all to hear, but the latest studies find that might be the last way to get people to listen. According to an unpublished handbook from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University (CRED), the most common ways for communicating environmental problems are often the most ineffective.

Part of our research verifies an old truth: newborn babies cannot eat gourmet food no matter how well prepared, and the average American cannot process information on climate change as is, in its highest academic jargon-ridden form.

Claims like “twenty thousand tons of carbon emissions can be reduced by cogeneration of energy” will make a lot more sense to most voters and the public if explained through the illuminating power of metaphor, analogy, vivid imagery, and comparison. These are persuasion devices that hit us in the heart, make us feel and connect what we see to our own story, our past. Ultimately, we base most of our decisions on what we feel, according to the research of CRED’s Tony Leiserowitz and his colleagues.

The common “gloom and doom” alarmism is not sustainable. Humans have a finite pool of worry, and the mind can only handle so much “gloom and doom” before it learns to move on. In the case of global warming, most people take one action – donate to a green fund or start recycling – and then they take the problem off the radar.

How do we put global warming back on the radar? Firstly the message needs to be local.

Among the most notable participants at the C40 were those with the gift of gab, and when they speak it puts into practice another important find: Just as important as the way we send the message is who sends the message.

The closer to home the advice hits, the more likely people are going to think about their decisions for two reasons. One, because it is easier to listen to your neighbor than a national government campaign. Two, because anyone in a room brimming with policy makers and money pushers will assuredly think a little harder about the decisions they are about to make as they will be called to account.

…There is no silver bullet to climate change. Its effects are already happening, went the chorus of NASA climate scientist Cynthia Rosensweig “adaptation is as critical as mitigation”.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New Orleans levee report completed

TerraDaily: A report that recommends steps to reduce hurricane damage in New Orleans was released by an expert engineering panel of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The 84-page report, "The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why," targets the public and policymakers, and complements and synthesizes the thousands of pages released so far by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during their post-Katrina investigation.

Dr. Robert Gilbert, the risk expert on the ASCE panel and a civil engineering professor at The University of Texas at Austin, noted that their risk analysis confirms the vulnerable nature of the city's hurricane protection system. In the report, the panel estimated that despite the levees and floodwalls, New Orleans residents' pre-Katrina risk was at a 1,000-fold higher rate than considered minimally acceptable for a major U.S. dam.

"A thousand people died in New Orleans, and the system failed once in 40 years," said the international risk assessment expert. "That's way off the chart of acceptable risk if you compare the system to major U.S. dams, which have governmental oversight and must meet federal safety guidelines."

…As part of assessing the risk and making recommendations for future improvements, the panel considered factors that included:

+ how inconsistencies in the features of the levees and floodwalls - including their varying heights and construction from erodible materials - resulted from their piecemeal development and disjointed oversight, and how this fed into the failure at 50 locations along the system during Hurricane Katrina;

+ how the hurricane protection system was under-designed to handle a major storm surge produced by hurricane winds that would reach New Orleans. No one had ever estimated the height of the surge likely to reach different points of the levee system using the standard benchmark - a major hurricane that would hit an average of every 100 years.

Despite the importance of engineering improvements, Gilbert cautioned that fortification steps alone aren't enough.

"It isn't just about improving the reliability of the levees and making them taller," he said. "Spending federal money towards developing a way to evacuate people effectively is crucial, and very little emphasis has been put on this or on determining how to rebuild the city in a way that will keep people and property safe."

Relying only on levees isn't the answer, Gilbert said, because upgrading them is expensive, and it's difficult to anticipate the magnitude of future storms, which can impact a small portion of a levee system and have catastrophic consequences. He also noted that higher levees can create greater danger because of the higher wall of water that is released if they fail…

National Review Online weighs in on G-8

National Review Online: ...If the President really wants the nation to get serious about reducing gasoline and other fossil-fuel consumption, he also has better options than tightening CAFE standards on new automobiles. Federal fuel economy standards may sound nice in theory, but in practice they distort manufacturing decisions and lead automakers to produce smaller, less-safe vehicles than those desired by the public. A better — albeit more controversial — approach would be to replace corporate income taxes and excises with taxes on the carbon content of fuels. So long as such a tax shift does not increase the overall tax burden on the economy — and this is an essential condition — it could encourage innovation and conservation without costly mandates or wasteful subsidies.

If someone had predicted a month ago that President Bush would lead the way toward a meaningful global climate-change policy, they would have been labeled a loon, or worse. In the days leading up to the GU summit, policy mavens predicted the likelihood of a policy breakthrough was slim. But something funny happened on the way to Heiligendamm: The president proposed an alternative way to generate international agreement on climate policy, and now other nations are listening. If we see a climate policy breakthrough in the years ahead, it is possible President Bush will deserve much of the credit.

Biodiversity is Crucial in the Fight Against Climate Change

Tumpline Stackyard (Agriculture on the web), UK: The crucial role of biodiversity in tackling climate change was today highlighted by Barry Gardiner, Biodiversity Minister, at an international conference at the Royal Society.

Mr Gardiner launched “Biodiversity indicators in your pocket 2007,” a set of 18 indicators which tracks the UK’s progress against international biodiversity targets. This is the first time that a comprehensive set of biodiversity indicators has been published for the UK. A specific indicator has been developed to monitor how changes in climate, particularly temperature, is influencing biodiversity.

Defra has also published a review of current research into climate change and biodiversity in England: “England Biodiversity Strategy: towards adaptation to climate change”. The report reviews the evidence of climate change on biodiversity in England and considers options for adapting policies to reduce these impacts. The evidence in the report on how temperature changes impact on biodiversity, also supports the findings of the biodiversity indicator on climate change.

Addressing the audience of leading global academics and policy officials, at the Biodiversity-Climate Interactions conference, Mr Gardiner said: “Many people still talk about climate change as if it is only a long-term threat. But the fact is that it is already happening, and we need to deal with the realities of climate change and the problems it is creating for society and the environment today.

“But biodiversity is also one of our greatest weapons in the battle against climate change. So it is critical that any action plan to reduce climate change, includes the effective and sustainable management of our ecosystems” .

“The biodiversity indicators highlight just how vulnerable our precious biodiversity is to climate change. Despite long-term declines in the indicators for many species and habitats such as farmland birds and butterflies, there are some early signs of recovery or a slowing of the declines in some areas.”

James Williams, Reporting Standards Manager at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) said: “JNCC welcomes the publication of Biodiversity Indicators in Your Pocket 2007. These indicators are an essential first step towards measuring the 2010 target.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Push-Button Climate Modeling Now Available

TerraDaily: A tool used by scientists to create climate models is about to become easier to use and available to a much wider audience. A new Web-enhanced version of the most commonly used climate modeling system will allow many more scientists - and even curious students - to test theories about the planet's climate.

Matt Huber, an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University, says the Community Climate System Model is already used by thousands of scientists, and the results from their models often make headlines around the world.

"This new tool makes climate modeling available to a much wider audience," Huber says. "This allows us to get science done at the push of a button. Now we have a 'turn-key' climate model."

The new climate modeling TeraGrid service tool was announced Wednesday (June 6) at the annual meeting of TeraGrid users in Madison, Wis. Huber says this tool will allow many more people to become involved with climate modeling and to ask "what if?" questions.

"Our hope is to roll this out to a broader community," he says. "Researchers on the cutting edge of science can use this tool, but so can high school students who want to run their own climate models. They will generate equal output."

The Community Climate System Model, known to many scientists as CCSM, is actually a collection of interconnected modeling systems. The climate system model contains separate climate models using data from the atmosphere, oceans, land surfaces and ice fields and then brings the models together in yet another system known as a coupler.

Huber says climate models can be sensitive to underlying issues related to getting the multiple systems to work together.

The Community Climate System Model was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and is currently funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

New York must adapt now to climate change

Albany Times Union, from an editorial by Sarah Newkirk and David VanLuven: President Bush's recent call for long-term carbon emission targets worldwide was the latest in a series of statements by elected officials in America to address the threat posed by rising greenhouse gases. In New York, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's creation of a Climate Change Office to focus on carbon reduction and clean energy sends the right signal about the state's commitment to reduce its share of carbon emissions.

Yet reducing greenhouse gas emissions is only one part of the problem. Largely absent from the public debate but equally urgent is the notion of adaptation.

Some of the inevitable consequences of climate change identified by the scientific community are already taking place and are expected to continue for some time. That's because no matter how much we reduce our emissions today -- even if we ceased them altogether tomorrow -- New York and the planet would still continue to warm for decades to come.

The consequences from this warming -- rising waters, more intense storms and protracted droughts -- are likely to prove devastating to our local environment, communities and economy. That's why New York must quickly launch a statewide evaluation of the types of actions that are needed to increase the resilience of our communities and natural habitats. The state must also explore the institutional changes necessary to make these actions effective.

The threats over the next 30 years are very real, researchers have found. More summer days that exceed 100 will roast communities, straining our electrical supply and imperiling sensitive populations that can't afford air conditioners or travel to cooler climes. Warmer winters will tax New York City's drinking water supply as less snow falls in the Catskills. Storm surges riding higher sea levels will increase erosion, flood or destroy coastal homes and assail low-lying transportation infrastructure.

The same changes that threaten our human communities also threaten our natural environment. Conservative estimates suggest that climate change will cause increases in sea level by two feet by 2100. As a consequence, marshes along Long Island's coast and the Hudson River all the way to Troy will likely drown unless they can migrate landward with the water.

Already, research is indicating that marshes on Long Island's south shore are not able to accumulate sediment at a pace that allows them to keep up with sea level rise. Beaches -- and the habitat they provide -- are also disappearing, especially in places where their migration is choked off by bulkheads and other shoreline armoring. You need only take a look at New Orleans to understand why healthy marshes and beaches constitute a valuable natural resource.

Human and natural communities will need to apply the same adaptation strategies to survive. We need to conserve low-lying freshwater and coastal areas to accommodate rising sea level and storm waters, thus preventing important ecosystems from being "pinched out" and homes from being destroyed or flooded.

Floodplains along streams and rivers, and wetlands across the landscape, will become even more important to slowing runoff from violent storms and absorbing fresh water to support thirsty communities. …

Of course, we still need to curb emissions, and we need to do so immediately. But climate change is a multifaceted challenge with long- and short-term consequences. Emissions reduction will help us survive the long-term implications, but adapting to climate change is critical for getting us through the next 30 years.

Indian PM sets up council on climate change

One World South Asia, via Infochange: While India continues to sticks to its traditional stand of refusing to accept quantitative targets on reducing carbon-emitting greenhouse gas use, the government is slowly coming around to the idea that an agreement on reductions could be conditional on explicit subsidies on clean technologies from the developed world

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has formed a high-level advisory panel to formulate the country’s strategy on climate change and its fallout. The panel, announced on June 6, World Environment Day and just prior to G8 talks on climate change, comprises government ministers as well as climate experts and industry representatives.

An official release stated that the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change “will coordinate national action plans for the assessment, adaptation and mitigation of climate change. It will advise the government on proactive measures that can be taken by India to deal with climate change.” And it will facilitate inter-ministerial coordination, and guide policy in relevant areas…

...The panel is a follow-up to a review conducted by the prime minister in May where the consensus was that India ought to have a domestic policy on climate change. Ministers present at the meeting felt that India needed a national policy to tackle climate change, even if it did not soften its international stance that traditional global polluters, ie, the developed world, ought to make more effort to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions instead of making demands of developing countries, whose chief imperative was cutting poverty levels.

The meeting also concluded that India must initiate measures to cut its carbon emissions despite the fact that it was not yet a major polluter and could not compromise on economic growth and poverty reduction targets. This view may have been a response to recent UN reports warning of catastrophic consequences for India, especially its poor, as a result of climate change-related disasters.

While the fear was expressed that formulating a climate change strategy would mean a rollback in India’s refusal to commit to emission cutbacks at forthcoming climate change talks in Bali, Indonesia, this fear has proven unfounded.

The setting up of the panel is also thought to be a response to consistent demands that both India and China -- likely to be the world’s largest polluters in the future -- commit to major cuts in carbon emissions. However, India and other developing nations contend that the developed world must subsidise clean technologies in order to allow the former to make the switch to less-polluting energy sources without compromising on economic growth.

So, while India sticks to its traditional stand of refusing to accept quantitative targets on reducing carbon-emitting greenhouse gas use, the government is slowly coming around to the idea that an agreement on reductions could be conditional on explicit subsidies on clean technologies from the developed world.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The wrath of 2007: America's great drought

The Independent (UK): America is facing its worst summer drought since the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression. Or perhaps worse still.

From the mountains and desert of the West, now into an eighth consecutive dry year, to the wheat farms of Alabama, where crops are failing because of rainfall levels 12 inches lower than usual, to the vast soupy expanse of Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida, which has become so dry it actually caught fire a couple of weeks ago, a continent is crying out for water.

In the south-east, usually a lush, humid region, it is the driest few months since records began in 1895. California and Nevada, where burgeoning population centres co-exist with an often harsh, barren landscape, have seen less rain over the past year than at any time since 1924. The Sierra Nevada range, which straddles the two states, received only 27 per cent of its usual snowfall in winter, with immediate knock-on effects on water supplies for the populations of Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The human impact, for the moment, has been limited, certainly nothing compared to the great westward migration of Okies in the 1930 - the desperate march described by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.

Big farmers are now well protected by government subsidies and emergency funds, and small farmers, some of whom are indeed struggling, have been slowly moving off the land for decades anyway. The most common inconvenience, for the moment, are restrictions on hosepipes and garden sprinklers in eastern cities.

But the long-term implications are escaping nobody. Climatologists see a growing volatility in the south-east's weather - today's drought coming close on the heels of devastating hurricanes two to three years ago. In the West, meanwhile, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests a movement towards a state of perpetual drought by the middle of this century. "The 1930s drought lasted less than a decade. This is something that could remain for 100 years," said Richard Seager a climatologist at Columbia University and lead researcher of a report published recently by the government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)….

…The Dust Bowl was the result of catastrophic dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American prairies in the 1930s. The fertile soil of the Great Plains had been exposed by removal of grass during ploughing over decades of ill-conceived farming techniques. The First World War and immense profits had driven farmers to push the land well beyond its natural limits.

When drought hit, the soil dried, became dust, and blew eastwards, mostly in large black clouds. This caused an exodus from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and the surrounding Great Plains, with more than half a million Americans left homeless in the Great Depression.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Oxfam reaction to G8 agreement on climate change

Scoop from New Zealand, story copyright by Mediaforfreedom: Today the group of G8 countries meeting in Germany announced that they had come to an agreement on climate change. The core elements of the communiqué that emerged on Thursday afternoon were:

  • Agreement to work within the established U.N. process and to complete negotiations on a post-2012 UN multilateral framework by 2009
  • They will "consider the commitments" by the EC, Japan, and Canada to cut emissions by 50% by 2050
  • "Substantial cuts" for all G8 members but no specific numerical emissions reduction targets for US and Russia
  • No commitment from the G8 as whole to staying below 2 degrees centigrade warming

Oxfam's Senior Policy Advisor, Antonio Hill said: "It is welcome that G8 leaders have endorsed the UN process to tackle climate change and agreed to negotiate a post-2012 framework within this forum. This means that the poorest countries, who are most affected by climate change will have a seat at the table where solutions are discussed.

"It is also welcome that the EU, Canada and Japan have reiterated their individual commitments to halving carbon emissions by 2050, and that other countries have supported the need for cuts.

"However, it is profoundly disappointing that some members, including the world's leading polluter, the US, have failed to sign up to specific targets or even an indicative global stabilisation goal. This means that the world is still on track for global warming above 2C – dangerous climate change that will devastate poor countries and massively undermine the fight against poverty.

"After this meeting is over, poor people will still face grave risks associated with catastrophic climate change, including increasingly severe droughts, floods and famines. The eight most powerful countries in the world had an unprecedented opportunity this week to boost global efforts to respond to the threat of global warming and sharply reduce the risks that poor people face. They have taken one step forward, but they should be running by now."

Oxfam added that the G8 should also look to make commitments at this meeting on extra funds to help poor countries adapt to climate change….

Oxfam also said that in the remaining hours of the summit the issue of increased aid to help fund basic services such as health and education needed to be addressed. At the time of writing, the reiteration of promises made two years ago at the G8 summit in Gleneagles to double aid to Africa, was still not guaranteed.

The G8 should also indicate their continued commitment to reform of world trade rules to reduce poverty, and their intention to stop pushing damaging free trade agreements on developing countries.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Climate changes evident in West, experts say

The Olympian online, via McClatchy: With snowfall diminishing at "statistically significant" rates, spring runoff coming earlier and a dead zone the size of Rhode Island in the ocean off the Oregon coast, senators were told Wednesday that global climate change is already being felt in the West.

Dam operators, water district managers, farmers, conservationists and scientists all predicted mounting problems as scarce water supplies dwindle further in an area stretching from the Northwest to the desert Southwest.

"The warming in the West can now confidently be attributed to rising greenhouse gases and are not explained by any combination of natural factors," said Philip Mote, head of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. Mote said some models show temperatures in the West could rise by 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming years. Signs of climate change, such as lilacs blooming earlier in the spring, are just a "harbinger of changes to come," he said.

Among other things, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources water and power subcommittee learned:

--Spring snow pack already has declined at nearly 75 percent of all weather recording stations in Washington, Oregon and California, and the spring runoff is coming two weeks earlier than in the past.

--Southern California is experiencing its driest year on record, and Lake Mead, which supplies water to large parts of the fast-growing Southwest, could be empty in 10 years.

--By some estimates, populations of Pacific salmon in the Northwest could drop between 20 percent and 40 percent by 2050, with even greater losses in California and Idaho. Western trout populations eventually could fall by more than 60 percent.

--A dead zone of "very low dissolved oxygen" has appeared every year in the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast since 2001, and unlike other ocean dead zones, pollution or other human activity isn't believed to be the cause. Instead, some scientists say there may be a "fundamental change" occurring in the ocean off the West Coast, changes that may involve wind patterns "modified" by climate change.

--Tens of thousands of irrigated acres will fall out of production as water supplies tighten, and tensions over water supplies will only be exacerbated as the effects of climate change deepen…

Los Angeles drought watch

The Daily Green: Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, is hunkering down in the face of an intensifying drought.

The city called on residents to reduce water use by 10 percent, as a persistent drought shows no signs of relenting, and a summer forecast predicts intense heat.

It’s the first water use restriction of its kind in more than a decade for the city — a sign of the times for the drought-plagued West.

Part of the problem across much of California was the minute snowpack left in the mountains after this winter. That’s a condition scientists say we can expect more of as the climate warms, which means it may not be another decade before Los Angeles is watching its water use again.

Crisis in Earth Observation from Space

American Association for the Advancement of Science: The network of satellites upon which the United States and the world have relied for indispensable observations of Earth from space is in jeopardy. These observations are essential for weather forecasting, hurricane warning, management of agriculture and forestry, documenting and anticipating the impacts of global climate change, and much more.

Maintenance of an adequate constellation of Earth-observing satellites and the instruments they carry is now threatened by budget cuts and reallocations in the two federal agencies that share the primary responsibility for them, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The situation is already causing harm, and it will become rapidly worse unless the Congress and the Administration take prompt action to reverse the recent trends. A 400-page analysis of this issue was recently released by the National Research Council updating and augmenting other recent studies and commentaries.

The new NRC report finds that [T]he United States’ extraordinary foundation of global observations is at great risk. Between 2006 and the end of the decade, the number of operating missions will decrease dramatically and the number of operating sensors and instruments on NASA spacecraft, most of which are well past their nominal lifetimes, will decrease by some 40 percent.

It also concludes that the sensors planned for the next generation of U.S. Earthobserving satellites are “generally less capable” than their counterparts in the current, now rapidly diminishing generation.

These declines will result in major gaps in the continuity and quality of the data gathered about the Earth from space. As noted in the new NRC study and elsewhere, this trend of sharply diminished U.S. capacity in Earth observations from space has been the result not only of tightening constraints on NASA and NOAA budgets but also of an explicit redirection of NASA’s priorities away from Earth observation and toward missions to the Moon and Mars...

Group: Climate change imperils monuments

Huffington Post: Rising seas, spreading deserts, intensifying weather and other harbingers of climate change are threatening cultural landmarks from Canada to Antarctica, the World Monuments Fund said Wednesday.

New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged historic neighborhoods, the Church of the Holy Nativity under Palestinian control in Bethlehem, cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary in Peru are among the locations listed on the fund's top 100 most endangered. The U.S. locations also include historic Route 66, the fabled east-west highway flanked by eccentric, deteriorating attractions, and the New York State Pavilion, a rusting remnant of the 1964 World's Fair in New York City's Queens borough.

"On this list, man is indeed the real enemy," Bonnie Burnham, president of the New York-based fund, said in a statement. "But, just as we caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it."

This year's list of the 100 most endangered sites includes 59 countries. The United States is home to more listed sites than any other country at seven, including types of development such as "Main Street Modern" public buildings that symbolized progress after World War II. There are six sites listed in Peru and five each in India and Turkey.

This year's list is the first to add global warming to a roster of forces the organization says are threatening humanity's architectural and cultural heritage. Other factors include political conflict, pollution, development and tourism pressures, and a thirst for modernity in buildings and lifestyles.

The list is issued every two years. It is intended as a cultural clarion call, and the organization suggests it has been a successful one.

More than three-quarters of the places listed in previous years are no longer imperiled, according to the organization, which has given more than $47 million to help save about 200 sites since 1996.

A group of experts chose the sites from hundreds of nominations submitted by governments, conservationists and others. The selections were based on the sites' importance and the urgency of the dangers to them, the organization said.

On Herschel Island, Canada, melting permafrost threatens ancient Inuit sites and a historic whaling town. In Chinguetti, Mauritania, the desert is encroaching on an ancient mosque. In Antarctica, a hut once used by British explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott has survived almost a century of freezing conditions but is now in danger of being engulfed by increasingly heavy snows…

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Heat wave adaptation study in UK

First Science: Sweltering summers in the city may become more bearable in future years, thanks to a new study probing the heat contributed by buildings, roads and traffic. Researchers at The University of Manchester will use a small plane and a car fitted with advanced equipment to map out the surface temperature of central areas of Manchester and Sheffield.

The data collected will be combined with climate change forecasts to produce a detailed picture of how urban ‘heat islands’ push up the temperature during the hottest months. One of the aims of the three-year study is to produce a series of tools, that will help planners, designers and engineers decide the best way of adapting the urban landscape to bring greater human comfort during hot and sticky spells.

The SCORCHIO project (Sustainable Cities: Options for Responding to Climate Change Impacts and Outcomes), is being led by the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) at the University of Manchester.

…Research conducted at the Met Office Hadley Centre suggests that the occurrence of such hot summers is now twice as likely as it would have been without human-caused climate change.

Project leader Professor Geoff Levermore, Professor of the Built Environment at The University of Manchester and lead author of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Working Group Three Chapter on Buildings said: “Our urban and city areas are becoming increasingly unhealthy, dangerous and uncomfortable to work and live in, and are remarkably vulnerable to global warming.

“Actions by planners, designers and building owners are required in the short term if cities are to avoid becoming ever more vulnerable in the long term.

Hurricane in the Gulf -- the Persian Gulf

CNN: Oman evacuated tens of thousands of people Wednesday and closed the major port of Sohar as a weakening Cyclone Gonu roared toward the Strait of Hormuz -- the world's major transport artery for Persian Gulf oil. Oil prices rose amid forecasts that the strongest storm to threaten the Arabian Peninsula in 60 years was barreling toward Iran….

A few ships were still sailing through the nearby Strait of Hormuz despite 4- to 6-foot swells and strong winds, according to Suresh Nair of the Gulf Agency Co. shipping firm. "The entire area is unsafe. Vessels that were bound to call here say they are diverting because of the storm," Nair said. "Some are still going through the strait."

Manouchehr Takin, an analyst at the Center for Global Energy Studies in London, said the real fear is that the loading of tankers might be delayed by the storm."About 17 to 21 million barrels a day of oil are coming out of the Persian Gulf. Even if only some of the tankers are delayed, that could reduce the supply of oil and increase prices," Takin said.

Maximum sustained winds of about 86 miles per hour were reported with gusts to nearly 104 miles per hour, regional weather services said….

…Even with the weaker wind speeds, Gonu is expected to be the strongest cyclone to hit the Arabian Peninsula since recordkeeping started in 1945. A cyclone is the term used for hurricanes in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Crooked Timber, posted by John Quiggen: Zugzwang… is a term from chess meaning compulsion to the move. Most of the time, it’s an advantage to have the next move, but there are situations, particularly in the endgame when you’d much rather it was the other player’s turn.

So it has been with climate change, at least for some players in the game. The big divide in the negotiations for the Kyoto protocol was between the more developed countries, which had created the problem and continued to produce most emissions of greenhouse gases, and the less developed, which were the main source of likely future growth. The agreement reached was that the developed countries would make the first round of cuts, reducing emissions below 1990 levels* by 2012, after which a more comprehensive agreement would require contributions from everyone.

As soon as the Bush Administration was elected though, it denounced this as unfair and said the US would do nothing unless China and India moved first. The Howard government, until then a fairly enthusiastic proponent of Kyoto, immediately echoed the Bush line. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, China and India stuck to the agreement they’d signed and ratified.

The resulting standoff suited lots of people. Most obviously, while the Bushies were denouncing the unfair advantages given to China and India, they were also pushing as hard as they could to ensure that they and other developing countries did nothing that would facilitate a post-Kyoto agreement. And of course plenty of people in China and India were happy enough not to have to take any hard decisions on the topic.

In the last month or so, this has all started to fall apart. The Australian policy debate has shifted to the point where Howard has had to announce support both for emissions trading and for the logical corollary, binding targets for emissions reductions, though he still refuses to give any actual numbers. China and India have agreed to negotiate a post-Kyoto agreement by 2009, though they are still resisting targets.

That has left Bush isolated. Only a week or so ago, the Administration contemptuously rejected a draft G8 meeting statement on climate change prepared by the Germans, who are hosting the meeting. But as Bush’s lame-duck status has become increasingly apparent, his capacity to throw his weight around has diminished. The reaction from the Germans, and the rest of the Europeans was ferocious. It became clear that the G8 meeting would be a failure, possibly even ending with an overt statement of disagreement, although (as far as I can tell) such an outcome is viewed by those who run these events as unthinkable.

As with his response the recent Supreme Court decision requiring the EPA to control CO2 emissions, Bush responded with a plan that would have no effect until late 2008, by which time his term would be nearly finished. As Dan Froomkin observed, the US reaction showed that Bush still knows how to play the American press like a harp, but the European reaction ranged from tepid (those who interpreted Bush as offering largely meaningless rhetoric) to hostile (those who viewed him as attempting to derail the post-Kyoto process). And this gradually fed back into US coverage.

So, the pieces are moving again, and the system of mutually supportive intransigence is breaking down. It remains to be seen if anything positive can be achieved, but the untenability of Bush’s position is now clear for all to see.

* Australia held out for a special deal, allowing an 8 per cent increase, then decided not to ratify anyway.