Friday, August 31, 2007

Storms strike insurance rates

Insurance Newsnet: Scientists haven't reached a consensus about whether global warming makes hurricanes more frequent and fierce, but that hasn't stopped the insurance industry from raising its defenses -- and its rates. Many coastal property owners in North Carolina have seen their insurance rates increase 25 percent since May. Rates are rising amid fears that North Carolina could be hit by a storm as destructive as Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005, or as powerful as Hurricane Dean, which struck Mexico last week.

"I know everybody on the coast is suffering from high insurance rates," said William Baggett, an owner of the oceanfront Blockade Runner hotel in Wrightsville Beach. He said his rates have quadrupled since 2005. "I don't think they are quite justified."

Officials with the N.C. Rate Bureau, which prepares rate requests for insurance companies, don't specifically blame global warming for more hurricanes. But the insurance rate increase was based on historical records of hurricane strikes, plus scientific data showing increased ocean temperatures in recent years. Some scientists think the warmer waters are fueling more intense hurricanes.

Insurance risk models used to predict hurricane damage and rate requests indicate that the Atlantic Ocean has warmed up to seven-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit since 1995. "We believe we're in a period where global climate factors favor hurricane development," said Ray Evans, general manager for the N.C. Rate Bureau, which had sought a 100 percent increase in coastal property premiums, rather than the 25 percent jump…

Dirt isn't so cheap: Soils conference in Iceland

IPS: Soil erosion is the "silent global crisis" that is undermining food production and water availability, as well as being responsible for 30 percent of the greenhouse gases driving climate change. "We are overlooking soil as the foundation of all life on Earth," said Andres Arnalds, assistant director of the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service.

"Soil and vegetation is being lost at an alarming rate around the globe, which in turn has devastating effects on food production and accelerates climate change," Arnalds told IPS from Selfoss, Iceland, host city of the International Forum on Soils, Society and Climate Change which starts Friday.

Along with many other international partner institutions, Iceland is marking the centenary of its Soil Conservation Service by convening this forum of experts. Every year, some 100,000 square kilometres of land loses its vegetation and becomes degraded or turns into desert. "Land degradation and desertification may be regarded as the silent crisis of the world, a genuine threat to the future of humankind," Arnalds said.

…"Soils are under greater pressure than ever before," [Australia’s Andrew] Campbell said in an interview. "Governments around the world are subsidising crops to produce biofuels." Hundreds of millions of square kilometers of farmland will soon be used to meet a small part of the world's rapidly growing thirst for fuel. And even if rainforests aren't being cleared to grow biofuel crops, as is the case in parts of Asia and South America, they offer little if any net environmental benefits, Campbell argues. Another reason to rethink the stampede to biofuel: These crops use a lot of water. In future, there will simply not be enough water to grow the food we need, he says.

…Land degradation and desertification may account for as much as about 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gas releases, according to researcher Rattan Lal of Ohio State University. These changes to the land also alter the water, temperature and energy balance of the planet. And climate change makes land degradation much worse and more extensive, mainly through changes in precipitation and increased evaporation that trigger more extreme weather.

…Ending the estimated 30 billion dollars in food subsidies in the north that contribute directly to land degradation in Africa and elsewhere, and which force poor farmers to intensify their production in order to compete, would be a good start, Adeel said.

For Andrews, a sweeping change in how land use decisions are made at all levels of government is needed. Soil, water, energy, climate, biodiversity, food production are all interconnected, which demands integrated policy-making. Decisions and policies are currently set by different governmental departments and agencies with little regard for the impacts on other sectors, he said.

"We have battled very severe land degradation in Iceland that has taken us 100 years to tackle," Arnalds said. That degradation means one-third of Iceland's 103,000 sq km area is still desert. Iceland has should serve as both a warning to other countries and hope that it is possible to restore degraded lands with enough resources, he says. "It is far better to preserve than restore," the scientist noted.

China says 278 cities have no sewage treatment

Reuters: More than half China's 1.3 billion population, including 278 cities, live without any form of sewage treatment, state media said on Friday, quoting city planning officials. And eight of those cities have populations of more than 500,000, Zhao Baojiang, chairman of the China association of city planning, was quoted as saying.

In its rapid development into the world's fourth-largest economy, China has been struggling to curb horrific water and air pollution. It has become the world's top emitter of acid-rain causing sulphur dioxide and many analysts expect it to overtake the United States this year as the biggest greenhouse gas emitter. An estimated 5,000 "administrative towns" and 20,000 smaller, market towns also had no sewage treatment facilities and a lack of clean water was especially acute in the central province of Henan, the China Daily said.

Pollution has taken on greater urgency as Beijing tries to clean up its notoriously filthy air before hosting the 2008 Olympics next August.

Spreading deserts threaten world food supply

Reuters: Spreading deserts and degradation of farm land due to climate change will pose a serious threat to food supplies for the world's surging population in coming years, a senior United Nations scientist warned on Friday. M.V.K. Sivakumar of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the crunch could come in just over a decade as all continents see more weather-related disasters like heat waves, floods, landslides and wildfires.

"Should we worry about land being degraded? Yes," Sivakumar, who leads the WMO's agricultural meteorology division, told a news conference in Geneva. "Today we feed the present world population of 6.3 billion from the 11 per cent of the land surface that can be used for serious food production. The question is: Will we be able to feed the 8.2 billion that we expect to populate the globe in 2020 if even less land is available for farming?," he said.

Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia -- where the climate is already more extreme and arid regions are common -- will be most affected as rainfall declines and its timing becomes less predictable, making water more scarce, he said. But Europe, particularly around the Mediterranean, would also suffer from heat waves like those that this summer have led to devastating fires in Greece.

…Sivakumar, speaking on the eve of a U.N. conference on desertification in Madrid from September 3-14, said it was vital for the international community to help put innovative and adaptive land-management practices into action. These should be targeted at preserving land and water resources. But a return to mixing crops, rather than focusing on single-crop production based on intensive use of fertilizers, could also help face the challenge, he said.

Norway: Noah's Ark of seed samples tucked into Arctic mountainside

Terra Daily, Agence France-Presse: Carved into the permafrost of a remote Arctic mountain, a "doomsday vault" housing samples of the world's most important seeds is taking shape to provide mankind with a Noah's Ark of food in the event of a global catastrophe.

At the end of a narrow gravel road in Norway's Arctic archipelago of Svalbard where, ironically, no crops grow, construction workers are toiling away on the top-security seed vault with six months to go before it opens. An enormous freezer measuring 5,200 cubic meters (6,800 cubic yards), the vault will preserve some 4.5 million batches of seeds from all known varieties of the planet's food crops.

The hope is the vault will make it possible to re-establish crops obliterated by major disasters. "It's a cheap insurance policy," says Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the project's mastermind.

… "It doesn't take an asteroid hitting the Earth ... to endanger the biodiversity. Technical failures, bad management, typhoons or wars all contribute" to the threat, Fowler said. Already, some of the world's biodiversity "has become extinct like a Tyrannosaurus Rex," he said, citing the destruction of seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan due to wars and another one in the Philippines due to a typhoon.

…The Norwegian archipelago, which is politically stable and distant from any seismic activity, was selected for its remote location "away from natural disasters, wars, civil strife and a lot of the kind of craziness that goes on in the world today," Fowler said….

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Full IPCC report on adaptation available

We've had the executive summary for a few months, but now everyone can read the full report by Working Group II: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. It's a lot of reading, but it will drive all discussions of adaptation for the next few years.

The political ecology of disaster in Greece

Climate Ark, via EurActiv: This summer's forest fires in Greece are an "ecological and environmental crisis" and highlight "deep flaws" in the contemporary Greek political and social landscape, writes Chronis Polychroniou for Open Democracy. The nation now faces an "ecological nightmare" that will condemn Greece’s current and future generations to "inhuman" conditions, adds Polychroniou.

The article describes fires raging through the centre and south of the country that had killed 63 people – and injured scores more – as of 26 August, in a crisis that has been escalating since late June. Meanwhile, entire villages and cultivated landscapes have been obliterated, not to mention the "130 different kinds of birds, 45 different types of mammals […] and 30 different types of amphibians and reptiles" that Polychroniou claims perished during one day of the Mount Parnitha fire alone.

Polychroniou labels the official response to the crisis "inefficient" and "dilatory", revealing "poorly trained" public administration staff, a political elite which "caters to the needs of its financial patrons", serious bickering between the leading parties and a "disillusioned and cynical" citizenry.

Moreover, he describes the responses of the prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, and public-order minister, Byron Polydoras, as "unconvincing" and "hapless", pointing to the failure to deploy the armed forces even as ancient Olympia was threatened – due to what he calls "a lack of government coordination".

For Polychroniou, the crisis is thus a "civic and political disaster" as well as an environmental one. He claims that the Greek state is "visibly ill-equipped to cope", highlighting the lack of a long-term forest restoration and ecological management plan and its dependence on technical assistance from EU partners.

Polychroniou concludes that Greece is facing a "pivotal moment" in its history which it must address if it is to avoid "regression". He claims that the Greek government has shown a "lack of political will" - and lacks the "governing capacity" - to deal with the fires. Labelling the crisis "a true Greek tragedy", he claims that the nation is in "dire need of bold, new, courageous leadership" and requires "a sea-change" in its approach to the environment if it is to avoid "ecological collapse".

Flooding risk from global warming badly under-estimated: study

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Global warming may carry a higher risk of flooding than previously thought, according to a study released on Wednesday by the British science journal Nature. It says efforts to calculate flooding risk from climate change do not take into account the effect that carbon dioxide (CO2) -- the principal greenhouse gas -- has on vegetation.

Plants suck water out of the ground and "breathe" out the excess through tiny pores, called stomata, in their leaves. Stomata are highly sensitive to CO2. The higher the level of atmospheric CO2, the more the pores tighten up or open for shorter periods.

As a result, less water passes through the plant and into the air in the form of evaporation. And, in turn, this means that more water stays on the land, eventually running off into rivers when the soil becomes saturated. In a paper published in February 2006, British scientists said the CO2-stomata link explained a long-standing anomaly.

Over the last 100 years the flow of the world's big continental rivers has increased by around four percent, even though global temperatures rose by some 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.35 degrees Fahrenheit) during this period. Today, as a result of the unbridled burning of oil, gas and coal, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are around a third more than in pre-industrial times in the middle of the 18th century.

The new study takes the 2006 discovery an important step further by projecting what could happen to water runoff in the future. If CO2 levels double compared with pre-industrial concentrations -- a common scenario in climate simulations -- the effect on plants alone would lead to an increase of six percent in global runoff, it says.

Until now, scientists have generally estimated an increase in runoff of between five and 17 percent compared with the pre-industrial era. But this is based only on one yardstick, called radiative forcing. In other words, it only measures the warming effect that greenhouse gases have on the water cycle and not the indirect impact that CO2, the biggest culprit, has on vegetation. The "radiative forcing" yardstick also predicts that higher temperatures will increase evaporation, causing greater water stress and longer droughts.

Both forecasts are offbeam, says the new paper. By widening the picture to include the CO2-stomata factor, the likelihood is that the risk of flooding will be worse than thought, but the risk of drought rather less so. "The risks of rain and river flooding may increase more than has been previously anticipated, because intense precipitation events would be more likely to occur over saturated ground," it says…

Vulnerable to rising seas, Singapore envisions a giant seawall

International Herald Tribune: Surrounded by sea and almost pancake flat, Singapore is without doubt vulnerable to the rising sea levels many scientists predict global warming will cause…

Faced with the prospect of a long, slow submersion into the very waters that serve as the lifeblood of this maritime trading hub, Singapore has reached out to the world's greatest experts on the subject of battling back the sea - the Dutch. "We are already in consultations with Delft in Holland to learn how we can build dikes," said Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister, in an interview last Friday.

Delft Hydraulics, a research institute and consulting firm specializing in water management issues in the canalled Dutch city of Delft, is already helping Singapore convert its biggest river and marina into a huge downtown reservoir. Now it is also helping the city-state look into just what it can do to defend its roughly 200-kilometer, or 125-mile, coastline….

Singapore got a preview of just what havoc rising sea levels could cause back in 1974 when a rare astronomical event caused the tides to rise 3.9 meters, more than double the usual level. "It eroded the coast very badly," said Wong Poh Poh, an associate professor specializing in beach geography at the National University of Singapore, who studied the event. Areas along the Singapore River were inundated, as were parts of the airport and a coastal public park built on reclaimed land.

Wong later discovered that during such periods of elevated sea levels, the variations between high and low tide are accentuated, putting the country's reservoirs, many of which lie adjacent to the coast, at risk. Singapore officials later used one of Wong's reports to draw the attention of the United Nations to the problems associated with global warming.

Katrina and the myth of global warming adaptation

Climate Progress: G. Gordon Liddy’s daughter repeated a standard denyer line in our debate: Humans are very adaptable — we’ve adapted to climate changes in the past and will do so in the future. I think Hurricane Katrina gives the lie to that myth. No, I’m not saying humans are not adaptable. Nor am I saying global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, although warming probably did make it a more intense. But on the two-year anniversary of Katrina — and the one year anniversary of Climate Progress’s initial launch — I’m saying Katrina showed the limitations of adaptation as a response to climate change, for several reasons.

First, the citizens of New Orleans “adapted” to Hurricane Katrina, but I’m certain that every last one of them wishes we had prevented the disaster with stronger levees. The multiple catastrophes — extreme drought, extreme flooding, extreme weather, extreme temperatures — that global warming will bring can be suffered through, but I wouldn’t call it adaptation.

Second, a classic adaptation strategy to deal with rising sea levels is levees. Yet even though we knew that New Orleans would be flooded if the levees were overtopped and breached, even though New Orleans has been sinking for decades, we refused to spend the money to “adapt” New Orleans to the threat...

Third, even now, after witnessing the devastation of the city, we still refuse to spend the money needed to strengthen the levees to withstand a category 5 hurricane. We refuse to spend money on adaptation to preserve one of our greatest cities, ensuring its destruction, probably sometime this century.

If we won’t adapt to the realities of having one city below sea level in hurricane alley, what are the chances we are going to adapt to the realities of having all our great Gulf and Atlantic Coast cities at risk for the same fate as New Orleans — since sea level from climate change will ultimately put many cities, like Miami, below sea level? And just how do you adapt to sea levels rising 6 to 12 inches a decade for centuries, which well may be our fate by 2100 if we don’t reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends soon. Climate change driven by humans GHGs is already happening much faster than past climate change from natural causes — and it is accelerating.

The fact is, the Denyers don’t believe climate change is happening, so they don’t believe in spending money on adaptation. The Center for American Progress has written an important paper on hurricane preparedness, which is a good starting point for those who are serious about adaptation.

But don’t be taken in by heartfelt expressions of faith in human adaptability. If Katrina shows us anything, it is that preventing disaster would be considerably less expensive — and more humane — than forcing future generations to adapt to an unending stream of disasters.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A "society that equates willful ignorance with freedom of thought"

The Cost of Energy raves about a letter to Newsweek: Most of you who read this site are probably aware that a couple of weeks ago Newsweek ran a big cover story on the global warming “denial machine,” to use their very apt phrase. Well, the September 3, 2007 edition is out, and it has the letters in response to that issue.

To no one’s surprise, there’s the usual mix of people throwing rocks at each other, including some people from a zipcode that surely maps to a particularly badly lit corner of Bizarro World. But the there was one letter, reproduced in its entirety here, that almost made me stand and cheer when I read it (emphasis mine):

Sharon Begley’s article about “the denial machine,” as frightening as it was, misses a crucial aspect of the problem. It is not just that well-heeled corporations are buying up politicians or promoting science-as-they-want-it-to-be. It is that our society is more than happy to accept spin and cant because we have come to believe that all expertise is bias, that all knowledge is opinion, that every judgment is relative. I see this daily in my university classroom. Many of even my best students seem to have lost the ability to think critically about the world. They do not believe in the transformative power of knowledge because they do not believe in knowledge itself. Begley decries the tactic of making the scientists appear divided, but the corporations didn’t have to invent this tactic. It is built into our carefully balanced political “debates,” into our news shows with equal time given to pundits from each side and into the “fairness” we try to teach in our schools. We need not be surprised that people have become consumers who demand the right to choose as they wish between the two equally questionable sides of every story. Neither global warming nor any other serious problem can be addressed by a society that equates willful ignorance with freedom of thought.

Bernard Dov Cooperman
Dept. of History, University of Maryland
College Park, Md.


I needed a cigarette after reading that, and I don’t even smoke.

The whole letter is exceptional, but that last sentence is such a perfect characterization of the hurdle we face in waking people up to the global warming and peak oil problems that I’m Kermit-the-Frog green with envy that I didn’t write it.

China's Great Wall dwindles

Reuters: Sand storms in northwest China are reducing sections of Great Wall to mounds of dirt and may cause them to disappear in about 20 years, state media said on Wednesday. The Great Wall, which was chosen last month as top of the new seven wonders of the world, snakes its way across more than 6,400 km (3,980 miles) and receives an estimated 10 million visitors a year.

More than 60 km of the wall in Minqin county in Gansu province, built in the Han Dynasty which lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD, had been "rapidly disappearing", Xinhua said, citing the head of the local museum, Zhou Shengrui.

"This section of Great Wall was made of mud rather than brick and stone, so is more prone to erosion," it quoted Zhou as saying, adding the wall had become brittle and the mud sanded down and blown away over time. "Similar erosion happened to the Great Wall in other places, but the situation is much worse here," he was quoted as saying.

Extensive farming since the 1950s had sapped underground water in Minqin and destroyed the local ecology, which made the county a major source of sand storms in northwest China, the agency said. More than 40 km of the wall had disappeared in the past 20 years and only about 10 km remained, it said. The height of the wall had been reduced from five meters to less than two meters in places and the square lookout towers had disappeared completely, it added.

The Great Wall, which the United Nations listed as a World Heritage Site in 1987, has been rebuilt many times through the centuries, and many sections of it have suffered serious damage from weather erosion and human destruction. Visitors climb wilder, crumbling sections that are not officially open to the public and stretches have become popular sites for summer raves.

El Nino not responsible for US heatwave

New Scientist Environment Blog, Catherine Brahic: …. A new study shows that human emissions of greenhouse gases made it 15 times more likely that the US would see record-breaking temperatures in 2006. In the event, temperatures were not the hottest, but the second-hottest since records began in 1895. The hottest year ever was 1998, which was also marked by a powerful El Niño. Scientists have widely attributed the record-breaking temperatures to El Niño.

So when data revealed that 2006, also an El Niño year, was the second-warmest year ever, Martin Hoerling at NOAA in Colorado and his colleagues decided it was time to find out if this was mere coincidence, or if El Niño was responsible for the warmth. Looking at data from 10 El Niño events since 1965, they found that El Niño tends to cool US temperatures slightly - not warm them.

The team have also used computer models to check this effect. They simulated US climate with and without El Niño and again found a slight cooling when El Niño was "switched on". Further computer models were used to look at the effect of greenhouse gases and aerosols on US temperatures and showed that they tend to warm US temperatures.

Finally, the El Niño and the greenhouse gas simulations were compared with what actually happened in 2006. The researchers found that the El Niño simulations were inconsistent with the idea that El Niño cause the 2006 temperatures. The greenhouse gas models, however, matched the actual records well. Hoerlin's team estimates that there is a 16% chance that 2007 will break the record set in 1998. The results will be published in Geophysical Research Letters on 5 September.

You might also be interested to know that this study is similar to one that was done in 2004 by Peter Stott of UK Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. Stott showed that human greenhouse-gas emissions at least doubled the likelihood that Europe would suffer a heatwave in 2003 (Nature, vol 432 p 610). During the heatwave, 35,000 people are thought to have died because of extreme temperatures.

If global warming never happened

Treehugger: College must make you, like, smart or something. One man-about-campus, at least, has his head screwed on straight.

"If global warming never happened, many of the changes we make in response to its threat would still make sense, writes Daniel Gibson-Reinember, a fishery and wildlife biology graduate student at Colorado State University, in his college paper. "Adapting our lives to reduce climate change means being more efficient, innovative, conscientious and just plain smart."

This is why the vehemence of the climate-change peanut gallery surprises us, when they act as though we just stomped on their favorite puppy and then set it on fire. (TreeHugger is unequivocally opposed to cruelty toward animals, even the ugly ones.) "You don't have to agree with the scientific consensus on global warming," says Gibson-Reinember. "Just take a keen interest in keeping America innovative, efficient, healthy and stingy towards dangerous regimes."

Someone give this guy a sheet of gold stars. ::Rocky Mountain Collegian

Climate incentives for China, the U.S.

Cass Sunstein, who has written a solid book about the precautionary principle among many other relevant topics, has a new essay on climate change. Here’s the abstract, from the Social Science Research Network: It is increasingly clear that the world would be better off with an international agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions. What remains poorly understood is that the likely costs and benefits of emissions controls are highly variable across nations. Most important, prominent projection suggest that the world's leading emitters – the United States and Chinahave weak incentives to participate in an agreement that would be optimal from the standpoint of the world.

The first problem is that any significant emissions effort would probably be exceedingly expensive for both nations. The second problem is that on prominent projections, the United States and China are unlikely to be the most serious losers from climate change. There are two ways to eliminate the resulting obstacle to an international agreement. The first is through altering the perceived cost-benefit analysis for both countries. The second is through an understanding that both nations, and the United States in particular, are under a moral obligation not to inflict serious harm on the highly vulnerable citizens of Africa, India, and elsewhere. Existing proposals for unilateral action on the part of the United States seem to stem from an unruly mixture of confusion, hope, and a sense of moral obligation. There are also interesting differences between the situations of the two leading emitters: Because China is much poorer and has much lower per capita emissions, it is especially difficult to interest China in taking aggressive steps to reduce its emissions.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dutch lessons for the U.S.

Mother Jones: … Louisiana politicians are demanding "Category 5" protection, a system of flood defenses capable of repelling the worst that a hurricane could dish out. …

But models for this kind of endeavor already exist, and the best of them is in the Netherlands. Over the past 50 years, the Dutch have built the world's most sophisticated system of flood defenses. I went to see them two months after Katrina. After weeks of looking at decidedly low-tech structures of mud, steel, and concrete, it was like materializing into a Star Trek episode.…

But it's not the machinery so much as the political and legal system behind it that offers lessons for America. After an intense debate following the 1953 disaster, the Dutch decided to junk the philosophy that had guided them for hundreds of years. Instead of building hundreds of miles of dikes around inhabited areas—the approach now employed in New Orleans—they decided to raise gated barriers across the three large estuaries where the sea enters Dutch territory… Even Dutch pasturelands have more protection than the Big Easy.

To do all this, the Dutch had to push their science in new directions. "For a hydraulic engineer, this was like putting a man on the moon," Tjalle de Haan, a government engineer who worked on the projects, told me. But the true innovation was the acknowledgement that as environmental conditions change, humans must get out in front of them—and stay there. As land sinks, or the sea rises, the government must upgrade its flood defenses; in the Netherlands, that's a legal mandate, not a question to be debated, one pork-barrel project at a time, with each new legislative session.

… The Netherlands' approach—designing projects based on estimated risk—long ago became routine for the private U.S. nuclear, aviation, and energy industries, and for the government agencies that build bridges and other infrastructure. But not for the federal agency charged with protecting millions of people from floods, the Corps of Engineers.

Congress allocates money for water projects on the basis of political power, not a scientific accounting of who's most at risk.…

Land use policies can stoke major wildfires

Missoula Independent (Montana): …As the hottest and driest summer the state has seen in years continues without relief, fire managers across the region are reporting unprecedented fire behavior…

Across the West, forest advocates and wildfire experts are now pointing to this summer’s fire behavior as a harbinger of future fire seasons, and looking for lessons to learn as the globe continues to warm. “What’s happening is that climate change is colliding with past land-management abuses,” says Tim Ingalsbee, executive director of the Oregon-based Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology.

Decades of patchwork clear cutting, forest thinning and road building has left a landscape ripe for extreme fire behavior, says Ingalsbee. Increasingly extreme weather—stronger winds, lower humidity, higher temperatures—is combining with hotter, more open, dryer and windier forests, creating disastrous conditions.

…George Wuerthner, editor of the 2006 book The Wildfire Reader: A Century of Failed Forest Policy, points out that recently logged terrain does not necessarily create fire breaks: “Big logs don’t burn very readily…But after a logging operation you have a lot of branches that are one to four inches in diameter, and that kind of stuff burns really well,” Wuerthner says in an interview.

Commercial logging also opens up the forest to rapid growth of shrubs, bushes and small trees, Wuerthner says. Those fuels dry out quickly and burn readily, making them a prime ignition source for larger logs and trees.

…While many of the state’s biggest fires are burning on land that has been heavily logged, or are burning within wilderness boundaries, Montana Sen. Jon Tester recently implied that lawsuits over timber sales are partly to blame for what he termed, “the buildup of dry, ready-to-burn fuel in Montana’s forests.”…

Corals and climate change

Terra Daily: A modest new lab at the Rosenstiel School is the first of its kind to tackle the global problem of climate change impacts on corals. Fully operational this month, this new lab has begun to study how corals respond to the combined stress of greenhouse warming and ocean acidification. The lab is the first to maintain corals under precisely controlled temperature and carbon dioxide conditions while exposing them to natural light conditions.

Using two Caribbean coral species as its study subjects, Montastraea faveolata (mountainous star coral) and Porites furcata (finger coral), the research team will study how the world's increasingly acidic oceans (caused by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide) affect these corals when accompanied with increasing ocean temperatures as well.

…Dr. Andrew Baker, co-creator and also a Rosenstiel School faculty, has spent much of his career looking at climate change impacts on corals and has geared his perspective towards understanding whether corals can adapt to any of these changes. "It's clear that corals of the future will see much warmer, more acidic oceans than we have now," Baker said. "By mimicking these same changes in the laboratory we get a much clearer idea of how these corals will respond."…

Real Climate examines regional climate projections

A long, informative entry from Real Climate: How does anthropogenic global warming (AGW) affect me? The answer to this question will perhaps be one of the most relevant concerns in the future, and is discussed in chapter 11 of the IPCC assessment report 4 (AR4) working group 1 (WG1) (the chapter also has some supplementary material). The problem of obtaining regional information from GCMs is not trivial, and has been discussed in a previous post here at RC and the IPCC third assessment report (TAR) also provided a good background on this topic.

The climate projections presented in the IPCC AR4 are from the latest set of coordinated GCM simulations, archived at the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI). This is the most important new information that AR4 contains concerning the future projections. These climate model simulations (the multi-model data set, or just 'MMD') are often referred to as the AR4 simulations, but they are now officially being referred to as CMIP3.

One of the most challenging and uncertain aspects of present-day climate research is associated with the prediction of a regional response to a global forcing. Although the science of regional climate projections has progressed significantly since last IPCC report, slight displacement in circulation characteristics, systematic errors in energy/moisture transport, coarse representation of ocean currents/processes, crude parameterisation of sub-grid- and land surface processes, and overly simplified topography used in present-day climate models, make accurate and detailed analysis difficult....

Another take on that climate investment report from the UN

Reuters: Energy efficiency for power plants, buildings and cars is the easiest way to slow global warming in an investment shift set to cost hundreds of billions of dollars, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

A U.N. report about climate investments, outlined to a meeting in Vienna of 1,000 delegates from 158 nations, also said emissions of greenhouse gases could be curbed more cheaply in developing nations than in rich states.

The cash needed to return rising emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, to current levels by 2030 would amount to 0.3 to 0.5 percent of projected gross domestic product (GDP), or 1.1 to 1.7 percent of global investment flows in 2030, it said.

"Energy efficiency is the most promising means to reduce greenhouse gases in the short term," said Yvo de Boer, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, presenting the report to the August 27-31 meeting. The 216-page report was published online last week.

…Energy efficiency in power plants would help, along with measures such as greater fuel efficiency for cars or better insulation in buildings. The study foresees a shift to renewable energies such as solar and hydropower, and some nuclear power.

The report also estimates that investments in helping nations adapt to the impact of climate change would run to tens of billions of dollars in 2030, such as treating more cases of disease such as malaria or building dykes to protect beaches from rising seas.

…The report fills in some gaps in a wider picture given by previous reports such as one by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern saying it would be cheaper to confront climate change now than wait to combat the consequences…

Monday, August 27, 2007

Beetles devour Colorado forests

Pueblo Chieftain (Colorado): Mountain pine beetles are obliterating a forest that stretches from British Columbia to Mexico, and in the process are creating a hazard for fire, public safety and water supply. “What we’re looking at is an entire lodgepole pine forest dying right before our eyes,” said Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

…So far, more than 1 million acres of lodgepole pines have been destroyed and another 3 million will be wiped out in Colorado. The damage so far is confined to 15 counties in the northwest part of the state, but is spreading over mountain ridges and moving southward. More than 22 million acres eventually will be destroyed in the American West. Meanwhile, the beetles are making their way across Canada toward the Atlantic Ocean as well.

…“We’re past talking about a bark beetle problem. It’s a people problem,” Carroll said….“We’re doing about 25 percent of what we should be doing,” Carroll said. The damage is spreading faster than in the past, with 660,000 acres of trees destroyed in 2006 alone, and this year’s total still being counted.

In the immediate future the major risk is fire. “We know these areas burn,” Carroll said. “A large fire could happen any time. When you have this kind of huge area with people living in it.”

Down the road, flooding will drag huge amounts of mud into mountain reservoirs, creating problems for water management.

Carroll said the wood has value now and should be harvested. “We need to invest now, rather than say we should have done something differently,” Carroll said. “We get confused about ecology, whose problem is it and bureaucratic issues. Let’s get on with work that needs to be done.”

…Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, sponsored a bill to allow special districts to deal with beetle mitigation. The districts could offer grants for mitigation, such as providing seed money for wood stove-pellet manufacturing. White said the beetle kill will have more serious consequences than climate change. “The beetle situation in five to 10 years will have far more damaging consequences to our water shed than in 50-100 years by global warming. We don't have much time.”

Climate talks start with calls for new global deal

Reuters: Climate negotiators from more than 150 nations assembled in Vienna on Monday with calls for a global deal beyond 2012 to replace the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol and include outsiders such as the United States and China.

"Climate change is already a harsh reality, a massive obstacle to development," Austrian Environment Minister Josef Proell told the opening ceremony at a meeting of more than 1,000 senior officials, activists and other experts. "Climate change is a huge challenge that can only be dealt with at a global level," he said. "We do not have much time."

Activists from Greenpeace, who complain of the glacial pace of world climate talks, demonstrated outside the Vienna conference hall with a giant balloon and activists dressed up as giant eyes saying "the world is watching."

The Aug 27-31 Vienna meeting is meant to pave the way for a deal among environment ministers meeting in December in Bali, Indonesia, to launch formal 2-year talks on a broader successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 35 industrial nations to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

The United States, the top emitter of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, is not part of Kyoto.

President George W. Bush said Kyoto was too costly and wrongly excluded 2012 targets for developing nations such as China and India. He has, however, signaled willingness to join in negotiating a new, long-term worldwide pact.

Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate official, said there were "many encouraging political signals building momentum for action on climate change" in recent months, such as Bush's pledge to seek "substantial cuts" in emissions…

Left high and dry by an end to flood cover in the UK

The Scotsman: The insurance industry has delivered a stark warning to the government that unless it spends billions of pounds on flood defences over the next few years, consumers will be abandoned to the mercy of the winds and rain, unable to buy cover.

Without insurance protection, homes are unmortgageable, unsaleable and ultimately worthless. As the industry counts the £3bn cost of the latest downpours, thousands of households are likely to receive eye-watering renewal quotations, which serve as effective blight notices on their properties.

The Association of British Insurers has written to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn threatening to withdraw cover unless significantly more is spent preventing future trauma for families and heavy losses for companies.

It blames government mismanagement rather than climate change for much of the recent catastrophes and claims they could have been prevented with more investment in replacing antiquated drains and poor flood defences. It also blamed massive building on flood plains as a major culprit.

For the first time, the industry body made clear its intention to halt its losses by threatening to withdraw insurance from properties in high-risk areas unless the government spends £8bn on sea defences over the next 25 years; blocked drains and watercourses are adequately maintained; and all building on flood plains ceases until flood defences are installed…

…A bigger headache still will be new homes built on flood plains. The ABI gave a clear signal that the industry will not insure such homes unless adequate defences are put in place, which will leave them unmortgageable and worthless.

…In the light of January's storms and recent flooding, insurers will carefully scrutinise all applications for household insurance, with those at risk of flooding being charged a premium. Properties which have already been flooded could see big increases in their insurance costs.

…Before long, though, anyone who has experienced flooding will find cover unavailable at any price…

Beijing traffic restriction not a silver bullet for air pollution

Environmental News Network, via the Worldwatch Institute: A recent traffic restriction that limited driving in China’s capital city during the four-day “Good Luck Beijing” Olympic test games initially resulted in a measurable improvement in the city’s haze, according to Beijing officials. But over the full period of the restriction, air pollution levels in fact showed a slight increase, The Washington Post reported. Zhao Yue, vice director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, noted on the agency’s Web site that humid, windless conditions had trapped particulate matter in the city, preventing greater improvement.

… In a model simulation, city officials had projected that taking some 130 million vehicles off the road each day would lead to a 40 percent reduction in the capital’s auto emissions.

Ever since Beijing promised to host the ‘greenest’ Olympics ever in 2008, the local government has plowed a fortune into major measures to tackle the capital’s long-standing air pollution problem. These include switching Beijing’s primary energy usage from coal to natural gas, relocating highly polluting industries outside of city limits, adopting stricter auto emissions standards, using cleaner fuels for public buses, and replacing coal boilers with electric or gas boilers.

Major shift in investments crucial to responding to climate change, says UN

Science Daily, from a UN press release: Tackling climate change in the next quarter century will require major changes to patterns of investment and financial flows, according to a recently released report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“The study shows us that a conscious effort to shift from traditional investment to more climate-friendly alternatives will require governments to adopt new policies and change the way they use their funds,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer. “The required shift in future investment and financial flows needs a combination of actions by the intergovernmental process under the UNFCCC and national governments.”

The study analyzed both existing and potential investment and financial flows relevant to developing an international response to climate change. It found that the additional amount of investment and financial flows in 2030 will amount to between 1.1 and 1.7 per cent of global investment.

Another key finding of the study is that $200 to $210 billion worth of additional investment and financial flows will be necessary to return greenhouse gas emissions to current levels. “Developing countries will require a large share of investment and financial flows because of their expected rapid economic growth,” Mr. de Boer noted. “This presents a real opportunity.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Toll rises in South Asia floods

Reuters: Flood victims in eastern India were eating raw wheat flour to survive as devastating monsoon flooding in South Asia continued to spread misery among millions. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed by snake bites, drowning, diarrhea and in house collapses since July when swollen rivers burst their banks, inundating huge areas in eastern India and Bangladesh. The toll rose by 74 over the weekend.

In India's impoverished state of Bihar, villagers were eating wheat flour after mixing it with water because they could not cook, underlying the inadequacy of government relief efforts, even after weeks of flooding….

Angry at meager relief supplies, villagers blocked roads on Saturday evening at eight places in the state, demanding more food, witnesses said. "We are doing whatever we can to help the people in crisis," said Satish Chandra Jha, a senior government official.

…Separately, health workers in the state were also struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has killed 90 people in the past two weeks. At least 4,000 people in 70 villages were sick and efforts were underway to stop the disease from reaching epidemic proportions, officials said. The outbreak in Orissa has been caused by drinking polluted water and eating contaminated meat, they added.

Across the border in Bangladesh, hundreds have died over the past few weeks during massive flooding, with thousands of people suffering from diarrhea. At least 10 more people had died since Saturday, pushing the toll to 702 in the worst-ever floods in the densely populated country.

"Water-borne diseases, including diarrhea are still a threat," Maksuda Begum, a health official, said. Monsoon flooding occurs in the region each year but the rains this season has been particularly heavy and incessant, leading some experts to blame climate change as a possible cause.

Uganda prepared to contain emerging epidemics, says WHO, via New Vision: Uganda is prepared to handle emerging epidemics, the World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative, Dr. Melville George, said yesterday.

"A few years ago Uganda had an outbreak of Ebola and recently of Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever. "While handling these epidemics, what came out clearly is that Uganda has matured in terms of government capacity to take control of the situation," Dr. Melville said. Referring to the World Health Report 2007, to be launched today, he noted that new diseases were emerging at a historically unprecedented rate of one per year.

…"The world has changed dramatically since 1951. At that time, the disease situation was relatively stable. New diseases were rare," the report stated. "Since then, profound changes have occurred in the way humanity inhabits the planet. The disease situation is anything but stable."

The report attributes the emergence of new diseases to population growth, incursion into previously uninhabited areas, rapid urbanisation, intensive farming practices, environmental degradation and the misuse of antimicrobials. "We have to deal with a lot of new threats. What the World Health Organisation is doing is to put in place measures, and guidelines to manage or reduce those threats and also to support countries put in place capacities to cope," Dr. Melville explained. According to the report, East Africa is prone to pandemics as a result of weather-related events. It refers to Rift Valley Fever, which has hit parts of East Africa as a result of climate change. "From December 1997 to March 1998, the largest outbreak ever reported in East Africa occurred in Kenya, Somalia and the Republic of Tanzania.

…Each country should develop the capacity to detect and respond to emerging epidemics, it concludes. "This entails countries strengthening their health systems and ensuring they have the capacity to prevent and control epidemics that can quickly spread across borders and even across continents."

Call for tigher building codes in Australia

The Age: Building codes across Australia must be strengthened and greater attention paid to where developers are allowed to build if damage to homes and infrastructure from climate change is to be minimised, a leading insurer has said.

Tony Coleman, chief risk officer for Insurance Australia Group, the country's largest home and motor insurer, said recent debate about how to curb carbon emissions had eclipsed the issue of the looming physical costs of global warming. "If you just mitigate, that's only half the job," Mr Coleman said. "We do actually have to do a decent job on adaptation as well because inevitably, we're going to be faced, almost certainly, with a two-degree Centigrade change."

The Insurance Council of Australia, the industry lobby group, was already pushing to get building codes amended "to make buildings effectively stronger when they're threatened by serious weather, and in some cases by bushfire", Mr Coleman said. "We're going in the right direction, but it's going to be slow progress."

A scoping study of building codes is expected in the next few months, as part of programs to be administered by the Federal Government's new $126 million Centre for Climate Change Adaptation.

Tony Arnel, Victoria's building commissioner, agreed that the issue of extreme weather and construction rules "is very much on the agenda" of the Australian Building Codes Board.

…Higher insurance premiums were "really the only countervailing market force" to discourage more risky developments, said Mr Coleman, of the IAG, although that alone might not be enough to sway local governments under pressure to allow development on vulnerable land.

…Since many public assets, such as roads, railways and ports were also in low-lying sections of Australia's coast, the community as a whole would have to pick up the tab if climate change brought more severe storms, Mr Coleman said.

A hundred Katrinas: Climate change and the threat to the U.S. coast

Mother Jones: As the atmosphere heats up and polar ice caps melt, sea levels are projected to rise significantly, sending water lapping against coastal flood defenses around the world. And if that added heat fuels bigger hurricanes, as many scientists now believe, Katrina-like storms won't strike once a century, but possibly once a generation. And if that still seems infrequent enough, consider this: For every catastrophic storm, we experience dozens of minor disasters, and many of those will strike harder, or in unexpected places. If so far you've been among the majority of Americans who haven't had to worry about floods or hurricanes, that may soon change.

…It's relatively easy to prepare for a high tide. The far less predictable threat from rising seas will be storms. Not every hurricane is a Katrina, but rising sea levels increase the likelihood and the intensity of flooding even from smaller tropical storms and nor'easters….

New Orleans is the American city most vulnerable to this threat, but it's far from the only one. Galveston, Houston, Tampa, Charleston, and even New York are also exposed, and residents all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, from Maine to Texas, will face increasing risks...

In some sense, we had it coming. Ever-expanding shoreline development has steadily increased the size and costs of disasters—there is simply more stuff to be destroyed along the coast than there used to be…

What's the best approach to this problem? A 2005 report by the Association of British Insurers suggested that reducing carbon emissions could reduce insured losses from extreme weather events by 80 percent, or $35 to $50 billion per year, the equivalent of two Hurricane Andrews. But Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, says that even if the world enacts the principal fix for global climate change—reducing carbon dioxide emissions—it will probably be too slow and indirect to have much effect on disasters. Instead, he suggests nations do it the old-fashioned way—either protect people or move them out of harm's way.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Scientists: Polar ice clouds may be climate change symptom

Environmental News Network: As the late summer sun sets in the Arctic, bands of wispy, luminescent clouds shine against the deep blue of the northern sky. To the casual observer, they may simply be a curiosity, dismissed as the waning light of the midnight sun. But to scientists, these noctilucent ice clouds could be an upper-atmospheric symptom of a changing climate.

“The question which everyone in Alaska is dealing with is what are the symptoms of climate change and, as in medicine, how do these symptoms reflect the underlying processes,” said Richard Collins, a researcher at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “It is believed that [these clouds] are an indicator of climate change.”

Dozens of scientists from several countries will gather at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aug. 20-23 to discuss the latest findings on noctilucent clouds and other phenomena of the earth’s upper atmosphere during the Eighth International Workshop on Layered Phenomena in the Mesopause Region. Sessions will include information on the latest ground-based and satellite data on the mesopause region, an area of the atmosphere 50 miles above Earth’s surface and the site of the coldest atmospheric temperatures.

Noctilucent clouds form under conditions that counter common logic. They only form in the summer, when solar radiation is most intense, Collins said. That solar heating, rather than warming the mesopause, causes cooling, he said. “The mesopause region is colder in summer under perpetual daylight than it is in winter under perpetual darkness.”

The reason lies in the movement of air within the atmosphere, Collins said. Solar radiation heats the lower atmosphere, causing a rising cell of air over the summer pole, he said. “As the air rises it cools and that beats out the radiative heating.” Those cold temperatures allow the ice clouds to form in the mesopause. The clouds could serve as an indicator of climate change because an increase in carbon dioxide, which causes heating in the lower atmosphere, causes cooling in the upper atmosphere.

Collins said the noctilucent clouds are a relatively new phenomenon. History indicates that humans first recorded their presence in the 19th century, he said. Satellite and ground-based data has been limited, he said, but it appears that the clouds have become more prevalent over time. A new satellite, Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, was launched in April 2007 to observe clouds and their environment in the mesopause, Collins said scientists are looking forward to having more reliable data, which could contribute to a broader understanding of the upper atmosphere, noctilucent clouds and how both fit into the climate system.

U.S. Midwest -- storms, floods, heat

Ah, summer in the Midwest. Brings back memories… from Environmental News Network, via Reuters: Heavy thunderstorms flooded portions of the central United States again on Friday, knocking out the water supply in one Iowa city and disrupting a major transcontinental highway. As much as a foot of rain fell in central Iowa during the night and flood warnings were posted for areas from northeast Kansas to northern Illinois.

Thunderstorms have raked the same sections of the Midwest for nearly a week, repeatedly dousing some areas and saturating the ground. At least 13 deaths have been blamed on the storms…

In the Chicago area, where a storm on Thursday hit with wind gusts as high as 80 miles per hour, more than a quarter million homes and businesses were still without electricity on Friday morning, according to Exelon Corp's Commonwealth Edison.

High water forced Indiana officials to close the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80, a major east-west transcontinental highway. Many rural and secondary roads were under water across the region, though the situation in Ohio was improving.

Floodwaters had begun to recede in the worst-hit towns and communities but rivers remained above flood levels and 17 highways were still under water, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency said.

…Public schools in Cincinnati were closed for the second straight day due to the heat, expected to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday. Indianapolis schools cut classes to a half day for the second day because of the heat.

Australia: The great desert dream

Loooong, but interesting, from Climate Ark, via Sydney Morning News: …"Australia's greatest 21st century adventure" [is] to transform the Tropical North; to bring the southern farmers to the water, rather than the northern water to the farmers; to turn the Top End into a major exporter of food and, yes, water to Asia.

…This month the Government's Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce - with initial funding of $20 million and an all-star team including Lachlan Murdoch and Noel Pearson - begins harnessing expertise, processing public submissions, criss-crossing the country discussing what chairman Bill Heffernan calls a "grand vision" for the north.

"This is not about the next election, about the next 10 years. This is about Australia in 80, 100 years time. This is about the nation's long-term survival," says Heffernan, the outspoken Liberal senator who promises to prosecute the cause not with bulldozers but scientific brainpower.

…"Two-thirds of Australia's freshwater flows down the northern rivers, compared with less than 5 per cent for our sadly-depleted southern waterways. Because of the way the country was settled they have never been properly tapped."

…So far, so encouraging. But despite two centuries of good intentions and great plans, northern Australia is littered with the wreckage of abandoned dreams, its history punctuated with plans that proved to be more grandiose than grand….

Climate change likely to increase risk of hunger- FAO

Afriqueenligne: Climate change is likely to undermine food production in the developing world, while industrialized countries could gain in production potential, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned. Greater frequency of droughts and floods would affect local production negatively, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes, Jacques Diouf, the FAO Director -General said in a media communiqué availed to PANA here Friday.

"Crop yield potential is likely to increase at higher latitudes for global average temperature increases of up to 1 to 3°Centigrade depending on the crop, and then decrease beyond that," he said. "On the contrary, at lower latitudes, especially in the seasonally dry tropics, crop yield potential is likely to decline for even small global temperature rises, which would increase the risk of hunger," he added.

The impacts of climate change on forests and on forest dependent people are already evident in increased incidences of forest fires and outbreaks of forest pests and diseases. Climate change adaptation will be needed in a variety of ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems (crops, livestock and grasslands) forests and woodlands, inland waters and coastal and marine ecosystems, according to Diouf.

…"Exploiting the new biotechnologies, including in particular in vitro culture, embryo transfer and the use of DNA markers, can supplement conventional breeding approaches, thus enhancing yield levels, increasing input use efficiency, reducing risk, and enhancing nutritional quality," he said.

But he cautioned that most genetically modified (GM) crops being cultivated today were developed to be herbicide tolerant and resistant to pests.

Development of GM crops with traits valuable for poor farmers, especially within the context of climate change- such as resistance to drought, extreme temperatures, soil acidity and salinity- is not yet a reality, he cautioned…

Friday, August 24, 2007

Drought pricing for water in North Carolina

John Whitehead in Cleantech Collective: North Carolina is experiencing severe drought. In response, voluntary command and control regulations have arisen to deal with the water shortage. Funny story ... voluntary command and control regulations don't work (Raleigh's water use sets record in August):

Despite mandatory restrictions, Raleigh's water use has soared this month, setting three all-time daily highs.

The use directly correlates with recording-breaking temperatures. Still, the numbers startled city officials, because use spiked when only half of their water customers should have been watering their lawns, which officials think accounts for as much as 20 percent of total water consumption.

Yesterday, Governor Easley asked North Carolina residents to reduce water use by 20% and Raleigh "... will limit lawn watering with sprinklers and irrigation systems to one day a week and vehicle and power washing to the weekends." Don't expect these policies to have much impact. Command and control regulatees usually can find a way around restrictions. If commercial fishermen are told to reduce the number of fishing trips then they get bigger boats so that they can catch more fish on each trip. In the same way, if households are asked to water their lawns on a limited number of days, then they'll increase the amount of water they put on their lawn that day.

Price controls are the real problem. If the price of water was allowed to rise sufficiently in response to drought conditions (i.e., a supply reduction) water consumption (i.e., quantity demanded) would fall during a drought. Here is how Olmstead, Hanemann and Stavins say it in their conclusions in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (doi:10.1016/j.jeem.2007.03.002):

... To the extent that [increasing block prices] increase the portion of consumers facing efficient prices for a scarce resource on the margin, they may well be welfare improving (and environmentally beneficial at the same time). Exploration of the efficiency advantages of IBPs is another area for further research.

Got that?

Sea level rise threatens the Nile Delta

Environmental News Network, via AP: Millions of Egyptians could be forced permanently from their homes, the country's ability to feed itself devastated. That's what likely awaits this already impoverished and overpopulated nation by the end of the century, if predictions about climate change hold true. The World Bank describes Egypt as particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, saying it faces potentially "catastrophic" consequences.

"The situation is serious and requires immediate attention. Any delay would mean extra losses," said Mohamed el-Raey, an environmental scientist at Alexandria University. A big reason is the vulnerability of Egypt's breadbasket -- the Nile Delta, a fan-shaped area of rich, arable land where the Nile River spreads out and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. Although the Delta makes up only 2.5 percent of Egypt's land mass, it is home to more than a third of this largely desert country's 80 million people.

The Delta was already in danger, threatened by the side effects of southern Egypt's Aswan Dam. Though the dam, completed in 1970, generates much-needed electricity and controls Nile River flooding, it also keeps nutrient sediment from replenishing the eroding Delta.

Add climate change to the mix, and the Delta faces new uncertainties that could have a potentially more devastating effect on Egypt. Scientists generally predict that the Mediterranean, and the world's other seas, will rise between one foot (30 centimeters) and 3.3 feet (one meter) by the end of the century, flooding coastal areas along the Delta. Already, the Mediterranean has been creeping upward about .08 inches annually for the last decade, flooding parts of Egypt's shoreline, el-Raey said.

By 2100, the rising waters could wipe out the sandy beaches that attract thousands of tourists. Also at risk would be the buried treasures archaeologists are still uncovering in ancient Alexandria, once the second most important city in the Roman Empire.

But those losses would pale to the impact of the worst-case scenario that some scientists are predicting -- global warming unexpectedly and rapidly breaking up the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.

…But even minimal sea rise in the next century would have serious consequences for Egypt, experts warn. A rise of 3.3 feet (one meter) would flood a quarter of the Delta, forcing about 10.5 percent of Egypt's population from their homes, according to the World Bank. The impact would be all the more staggering if Egypt's population, as expected, doubles to about 160 million by the middle of the century. The Delta is already densely packed with about 4,000 people per square mile (2.6 square kilometer).

…In Alexandria, authorities are spending US$300 million (euro222 million) to build concrete sea walls to protect the beaches along the Mediterranean, Frihy said. Sand is being dumped in some areas to replenish dwindling beaches….

The government is also preparing a "national strategy study" on ways to adapt to climate change, said Maged George, Egypt's minister of environmental affairs. Mohamed el-Shahawy, a climate scientist at the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, said the government was obtaining a "vulnerability index and detecting the most vulnerable regions."

"Egypt is trying to protect its shores," el-Shahawy said. "After this we will request that the world help. We have to protect ourselves. But it costs so much."

CU-Boulder to supply $92 million space weather instrument package to NOAA

Terra Daily: The University of Colorado at Boulder signed a contract today worth an estimated $92 million with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA to build a satellite instrument package to help forecast solar disturbances that affect communication and navigation operations in the United States. The instrument package, which will be designed and built at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, is slated to launch on future generations of NOAA satellites known as the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or GOES-R.

Known as the Extreme Ultra Violet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors, or EXIS, the LASP package will consist of an X-ray sensor to look at solar flares and an extreme UV sensor to monitor sunlight variation, both of which can disrupt communications and navigational accuracy of equipment and vehicles operating on land, sea and in the air and space.

A team of about 30 LASP researchers and engineers and about a half-dozen students led by principal investigator and LASP Research Associate Frank Eparvier will design and build the instruments at the LASP Space Technology Building in the CU Research Park. The LASP contract calls for the delivery of the first instrument package in 2012 and options for three additional instrument packages to be delivered over the subsequent decade following the launch of GOES-R in December of 2014, said Eparvier.

…The GOES satellite is responsible for measurements leading to fast, accurate weather forecasts, search-and-rescue beacon detection, and the measurement of space weather phenomena that directly affect public health and safety in the United States

Changes in California climate tied to water supply

Ventura County Star: Global climate change will have dramatic effects on California's water resources, reducing the Sierra snowpack by at least 25 percent by 2050, decreasing spring runoff into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and contributing to more severe droughts. And state and local water agencies will have but one choice in dealing with all this: adapt.

That was the conclusion of experts who testified Thursday at a hearing of the State Water Resources Control Board — a hearing that Chairwoman Tam Dudoc called the state's "first formal forum on the nexus between climate change and water resources." Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, testified that the effects of climate change are great unknowns as the state makes plans to meet future water needs.

"Our water future is a lot more uncertain than our water past," he said. "Our droughts are going to get deeper and longer — that is not a question. The only question is: How much deeper and how much longer?" The effects of climate change, he said, have added urgency to such efforts as strengthening Delta levees and building additional water storage capacity.

Regional water experts testified the best strategies for dealing with the challenges are to increase conservation and to make better use of reclaimed water and local groundwater resources. Implementing those steps, they said, would not only maximize the state's water supply but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions because they require far less energy than pumping more water from Northern California to the south…

Tim Brick, chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said the agency's experience in responding to the drought of the early '90s has provided "a model of adaptability" that will help meet future challenges.

… studies of the Colorado River watershed conclude that climate changes will result in a 10 percent to 40 percent reduction in river flows. "What we now consider a drought is going to be a permanent condition by 2040," he said.

Flood report calls for tougher city defences

Reuters: Cities need to review their drainage systems in the wake of this summer's floods to cope with the possibility of more extreme weather due to climate change, a report said on Friday. Britain has suffered its worst flooding in 60 years this summer, killing at least nine people, delaying harvests and causing well over 2 billion pounds of damage to homes and businesses.

"Nationally, we suggest that for urban drainage the level of 1 in 30 years should be reviewed as a minimum, and that some additional capacity should be factored in for possible climate change," said a report into the June floods in Hull, northern England, commissioned by Hull City Council…

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Infectious diseases spreading faster than ever -- UN

Planet Ark, via Reuters: Infectious diseases are emerging more quickly around the globe, spreading faster and becoming increasingly difficult to treat, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

In its annual World Health Report, the United Nations agency warned there was a good possibility that another major scourge like AIDS, SARS or Ebola fever with the potential of killing millions would appear in the coming years. "Infectious diseases are now spreading geographically much faster than at any time in history," the WHO said.

It said it was vital to keep watch for new threats like the emergence in 2003 of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which spread from China to 30 countries and killed 800 people. "It would be extremely naive and complacent to assume that there will not be another disease like AIDS, another Ebola, or another SARS, sooner or later," the report warned.

Since the 1970s, the WHO said, new threats have been identified at an "unprecedented rate" of one or more every year, meaning that nearly 40 diseases exist today which were unknown just over a generation ago. Over the last five years alone, WHO experts had verified more than 1,100 epidemics of different diseases.

With more than 2 billion people travelling by air every year, the UN agency said: "an outbreak or epidemic in one part of the world is only a few hours away from becoming an imminent threat somewhere else."

The report called for renewed efforts to monitor, prevent and control epidemic-prone ailments such as cholera, yellow fever and meningococcal diseases. International assistance may be required to help health workers in poorer countries identify and contain outbreaks of emerging viral diseases such as Ebola and Marburg haemorrhagic fever, the WHO said.

It warned that global efforts to control infectious diseases have already been "seriously jeopardised" by widespread drug resistance, a consequence of poor medical treatment and misuse of antibiotics. This is a particular problem in tuberculosis, where extensively drug-resistant (XDR-TB) strains of the contagious respiratory ailment have emerged worldwide.

…"The question of a pandemic of influenza from this virus or another avian influenza virus is still a matter of when, not if," the WHO said. It said all countries must share essential health data, such as virus samples and reports of outbreaks, as required under international health rules, to mitigate such risks. Accidents involving toxic chemicals, nuclear power and other environmental disasters should also be communicated quickly and clearly to minimise public health threats.

Trading as an adaptation tool: Financial instruments to handle weather risk

MarketWatch: …As hurricanes and variable weather make a more noticeable dent on businesses' bottom lines, financial institutions are stepping up to give individuals greater protection against the perceived risks associated with weather changes. Seen as an outgrowth of the traditional futures markets, these new weather-related contracts may help curb the financial disruption caused by climate change.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the nation's largest futures exchange, which first started trading weather derivatives in 1999, listed its first hurricane futures and options in March. The derivatives are geared toward insurance companies, municipalities and energy companies that seek to transfer the risk of hurricanes to capital markets…

The front contract expires when a hurricane makes landfall, with the expiration tied to the Carvill Hurricane Index. There are geographic contracts for the Gulf Coast, Florida, the southern Atlantic Coast, the northern Atlantic Coast and the eastern U.S.

The Chicago Merc also lists weather-related contracts for many cities that are based on temperatures, snowfall and other factors. Last year, the exchange said, it traded weather contracts with a notional value of about $22 billion. It's on pace to trade more in 2007, it added.

"There is great acceptance that companies need to manage weather risk," said Felix Carabello, the director of alternative investment products at the Chicago Merc. A more variable climate equals more uncertainty about profits, he said.

"You can't predict the weather, but with some of these contracts you can dampen the volatility in earnings due to erratic weather," Carabello said, adding that reinsurance and energy companies have been big early adopters, while hedge funds and banks are increasingly exploring hurricane- and other weather-related risks.

Earlier this year, the New York Mercantile Exchange launched contracts allowing real-time trading of property-damage risk exposure, including hurricane risk. The contracts are based on a property-damage index maintained by the reinsurance company Gallagher Re….

HedgeStreet, a regulated online exchange, also trades hurricane futures and is looking into more potential products that would allow individuals to play global warming. The hurricane contracts are based on insurance-claims data from Insurance Services Offices….

…HedgeStreet's strategy is to nurture the market and generate a retail community of traders to validate the concept. And with more exchanges going public and competition heating up, they're getting more aggressive in listing new products as institutional investors look to hedge weather risk….

UK satellite mission to improve accuracy of climate-change measurements gains global support

Terra Daily: TRUTHS (Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and Helio- Studies) is a proposed satellite mission, led by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), to improve tenfold the accuracy of earth observation satellites used to deliver climate change data. TRUTHS will launch a calibration laboratory into space to help settle international debates around climate change and provide a robust statistical baseline from which to monitor and predict changes in the Earth's climate.

Enabling the provision of data of sufficient accuracy to improve the predictive quality of climate models such as those of the UK Hadley centre a key requirement highlighted in the Stern review.

…"We've seen a recent surge in recognition around the world that we need more accurate data about our climate," explains Dr Nigel Fox, NPL's lead scientist on TRUTHS. "This can only be good news. With so many influential organisations calling for a TRUTHS-like mission we hope to be moving from scientific theory to spaceflight very soon."

Why is TRUTHS important" Assessments of climate change and the consequential scale of its impact depend on accurate data from scores of earth observation satellites. They ought to provide unequivocal evidence to support national and international legislation. But most earth observation data is disputable.

"We just don't know if the instruments are really accurate enough once they've been in space for a couple of years," Fox says. "What we do know is they all seem to produce slightly different results, and that gives a lot of unnecessary wriggle room to those who dispute the evidence for human origins of climate change. The uncertainty of the data allows the sceptics to exist."

The problem lies with calibration. Delicate measuring devices on earth - those used in medical and high-tech industries, for example - are regularly calibrated against primary physical standards held by national measurement institutes such as NPL. Instruments in space don't have this luxury. They are finely tuned before they leave the earth. "But after that we just don't know," Dr Fox says. "Even if these sensitive instruments survive the violence of a rocket launch, their sensitivity changes over time. But we don't really know by how much." It's not logistically or financially viable to bring these instruments back down to earth for a service every few months. "They can't come to us so we'll sort it out in orbit," says Dr Fox.

The idea is for TRUTHS to be a master device in orbit, against which other earth observation satellites are tested and calibrated. That ensures they will all be working off the same measurement benchmark. It also reduces costs - a central orbiting reference point means each individual satellite doesn't need to be equipped with its own individual suite of calibration tools.

Although the needs of climate science are perhaps the most demanding in terms of accuracy, such a mission would also serve as a reference to underpin the quality of data that is being generated and processed as part of the European GMES initiative and also that of GEO.