Thursday, January 31, 2008

Global automakers output hit by China snow storms

Inefficient systems are slack, repetitive and wasteful, but they are often resilient because multiple pathways to a goal exist -- if a disruption blocks one path, a resourceful agent can find another way. Hyper-efficient systems often lack resiliency. Every speck of waste has been removed from the system, and there are no alternative paths.

The snowstorms in China are creating major disruptions in the global car business. Workers can't get to factories, goods can't be transported to harbors, plants have been shut down for lack of power. Terra Daily via Agence France-Presse has the story: Fierce, driving snow storms in China disrupted global automakers' production at their joint venture factories owing to a lack of workers, parts and energy, the companies said Wednesday. Ford Motor shut its Ford and Mazda assembly, engine and research plants in Nanjing from Monday as the eastern city was forced to close icy roads and bridges after being pounded by the worst snow storm in five decades.

"It would be very dangerous to ask the employees to come to the plant," said Lynn Ouyang, a spokeswoman for the Detroit, Michigan carmaker, adding she did not know when production would resume. Freezing temperatures and unrelenting snow has left Nanjing buried under a blanket of heavy snow, prompting the government to call on energy-guzzling factories to curtail production to help ease home-use natural gas shortages. "We use gas for air conditioning of the factory and also for drying paint on our products," said a Mazda spokeswoman.

Snowflake image by NOAA (from Wikimedia Commons). Trillions of these things are falling in China

Greenwashing Index -- a new site to critique ads

As green becomes more of a fad, greenwashing becomes more pervasive. I came across what appears to be a useful site called the Enviromedia Greenwashing Index with a worthwhile public aim -- to subject the sustainbility pretensions of advertising to independent critical viewers: The integrity of today’s green ads can range from outstanding to outrageous, so it’s important for consumers to educate themselves on what makes environmental marketing claims truly authentic. The Greenwashing Index is an automated tool that provides five simple criteria developed by advertising academia and weighted according to their relevance in marketing claims. So, if you’ve seen a good or bad ad heralding the environmental qualities of a product or company, post it here, rank it according to the Greenwashing Index, and then come back to see how other consumers score it.

Photo of green giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota by greefus groinks (from Wikimedia Commons)

Microbes as climate engineers

Terra Daily has an interesting report about microbes as climate engineers., drawn from the February 2008 issue of Microbiology Today. As ecological swashbucklers, humans apparently are more timid than microbes. We think we're so tough, but microorganisms have been absorbing carbon and releasing it into the atmosphere for billions of years longer than we have: ...Humans affect the atmosphere indirectly by their activities. Most human-induced methane comes from livestock, rice fields and landfill: in all of these places, microbes are actually responsible for producing the methane, 150 million tonnes a year. Microbes in wetlands produce an additional 100 million tonnes and those that live inside termites release 20 million tonnes of methane annually.

90 billion tonnes of carbon a year is absorbed from the atmosphere by the oceans, and almost as much is released; microbes play a key role in both. On land, a combination of primary production, respiration and microbial decomposition leads to the uptake of 120 billion tonnes of carbon every year and the release of 119 billion tonnes.

"The impact of these microbially-controlled cycles on future climate warming is potentially huge," says Dr Reay [of the University of Edinburgh]. By better understanding these processes we could take more carbon out of the atmosphere using microbes on land and in the sea. Methane-eating bacteria can be used to catch methane that is released from landfill, Cyanobacteria could provide hydrogen fuel, and plankton have already become a feedstock for some biofuels.

"Microbes will continue as climate engineers long after humans have burned that final barrel of oil. Whether they help us to avoid dangerous climate change in the 21st century or push us even faster towards it depends on just how well we understand them."

Photo of a microbe (Paracoccus dentrificans, if you must know) by Richard Evans-Gowing, University of East Anglia (Wikimedia Commons)

Denial conference scheduled for March in New York

Someone with the talents of Mencken or Swift ought to take on the Heartland Institute. As it is, the page about them in Sourcewatch explains their ties to the tobacco industry and gives a quick sketch of their agenda: "The Heartland Institute, according to the Institute's web site, is a nonprofit organization 'to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems'. It campaigns on what it calls 'junk science', 'common-sense environmentalism' (i.e. anti-Kyoto, pro-GM), the privatization of public services, smokers' rights (anti-tobacco tax, denial of problems from passive smoking), the introduction of school vouchers, and the deregulation of health care insurance. It also provides an online resource for finding right-wing think tank policy documents called PolicyBot."

Real Climate reports that these swell guys are holding a pseudo-scientific conference to generate PR for climate change denial. The Real Climate poster does an amusing job of explaining the difference between a genuine scientific conference and Heartland's festival of shills, scheduled to take place in New York March 2-4. He urges his readers to accept the all-expenses invitation that Heartland is dangling in front of real scientists and skip the tobacco-science lectures.

Experts still divided on hurricanes and warming

Mark Saunders and Adam Lea of University College in London have published a paper quantifying for the first time the contribution of sea surface temperature to the increase in hurricane activity we've seen over the past decades. In Nature News, Quirin Schiermeier anatomizes the debate and explains who the major disputants are.

As usual, much work remains to better understand all the interconnections, and the work is much harder when denialists are busily making noise and doing their utmost to confuse everyone.
The stakes are high, since the insurance industry depends on this body of work to help them price risk correctly. Owners of coastal property might well be hovering at the boundaries of insurability, if they're not over the line already.

Hurricane structure graphic by NOAA

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Converting sewage into drinking water

With major water shortages already here and worse droughts looming, the prospect of recycling gray water keeps coming up. Will Americans manage to overcome the “Ew!” factor? Recovering wastewater doesn't present major technical problems, but the esthetics seem to bother many.

Science Daily reports on an article called "Treating Sewage For Drinking Water," which should appear in the January 28 issue of Chemical & Engineering News: C&EN Associate Editor Jyllian Kemsley notes in the article that some communities have used recycled wastewater for decades to replenish their drinking water supplies and wastewater often finds agricultural use for irrigation. Droughts, environmental concerns, and population growth now are forcing water utilities to consider adapting or expanding the practice, Kemsley explains.

Earlier in January, for instance, California approved operation of the Advanced Water Purification Facility (AWPF), the largest water reclamation plant in the nation. It will yield 70 million gallons per day of drinkable water from sewage. That's about 10 percent of the district's daily water demand for its 2.3 million residents. Although AWPF's purification process is complex, it produces clean, pure water that meets or exceeds all drinking water standards, the article notes.

Photo by Prawdapunk (Wikimedia Commons)

Q&A: Water meters are good for the environment and good for wallets

Inter-Press Service interviews the Julian Rodkin, Capetown's District Manager for Water and Sanitation about a South African city's experiences with water shortages. As the interview notes, water shortages are a chronic threat: "One of the main causes is population growth, which has led to an increased demand for water. It is estimated that 16,000 families from elsewhere in South Africa migrate to the Cape every year. To better regulate water demand and distribution, city authorities have launched a new water management system. This system revolves around special devices that are to be installed in homes across the city."

A simple measure, but the effect has been marked, according to this municipal official. People are sparing with water, and take care to avoid waste far more than before. The meters also have devices to shut down automatically if left on by accident, and also when they are tampered with. As a result, water levels at reservoirs and dams has been rising, which means that Capetown has been able to avoid water rationing methods. Residents of the parched American southwest and southeast, take note.

Photo of a water meter by Andre Karwath, or Aka (from Wikimedia Commons)

Snow fences and keeping winter roads clear

USA Today ran a story about a simple idea that looks promising. Better snow fences can all but eliminate snow drifting onto roads, minimizing winter disruption. This method is "100 times less expensive" than plowing, salting and sanding. The improvement threatens to make snow days much less festive for children, but we all must sacrifice as we grapple with climate change impacts.

The credit is for Bob Swanson, Jeff Dionise and Sam Ward, USA today.

Britain's spy 'listening' HQ nearly flooded out in 2007: committee

Sometimes, flooding has some unexpected, even positive benefits. Rising waters struck a blow for human freedom in the UK recently, when the floods disrupted the work of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham. Let this be a lesson to governments everywhere -- spend more time monitoring the weather, and let the humans take care of themselves. As the story from Terra Daily (via Agence France-Presse) makes clear, the severe weather did more damage to England's "counterterrorist" effort than any terrorist attack.

Photo of surveillance cameras perched high on a post, keeping their ankles dry, by Quevaal.

China's crops badly damaged by icy storms: Agriculture minister

The winter storms in China have clobbered the country's agriculture. This Reuters story has the scanty details. The government has given some general numbers, but hasn't spelled out how much of each crop has been lost. It also looks as if the winter wheat crop will be hurt. Another factor contributing to rising food prices around the world.

Topographic map of China from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Szalavitz on "10 Ways We Get the Odds Wrong"

Much of the discussion about climate change adaptation boils down to weighing risk, something that hardly anybody does well. In fact, the insurance industry exists because most people, businesses included, do a lousy job of gauging the uncertainty of various outcomes – another name for risk. They focus on spectacular but unlikely risks, while ignoring stealthier dangers that are much more pertinent.

With scarcely a word about climate, Maia Szalavitz explores this point in the January/February issue of Psychology Today. She deftly illustrates such points as “We underestimate threats that creep up on us,” and “fear skews risk analysis in predictable ways.”

Szalavitz is a senior fellow at the media watchdog group STATS, and a journalist who covers health, science and public policy. Her recent work about abusive teen boot camps have been superb pieces of journalism. She is a co-author of Recovery Options: The Complete Guide.

Scientist call for urgent research into "real" impacts of invasive species

Invasive species get no love. From Science Daily, via CABI: Scientists warn that unless more research is carried out to highlight the damage caused by invasive species, more livelihoods and natural ecosystems will be ruined as a consequence of their effects. Invasive alien species are those that occur outside their natural range and threaten the existence of native plants and animals. They can be plants, animals or microorganisms that are introduced intentionally for economic or agricultural purposes, or accidentally, through tourism, travel or trade, or when domestic animals become feral.

As well as drawing attention to the rising cost of invasive species on a global scale –estimated at US$1.4 trillion in damage – Global Invasive Species Program (GISP) stresses that too much emphasis has been placed on the problems faced by the agricultural sector in developed countries rather than in developing countries and on the “full range of environmental, social and economic costs.” The report also emphasises that due to the lack of knowledge and research available on the severity of individual pests and the options for best controlling them, policy makers are being left in the dark.

Dennis Rangi, Chair of GISP says: “With the increase in global trade, invasive species are gaining more and more prominence around the world. However the level of awareness amongst decision-makers, and in particular those in developing countries is still relatively low.”

He goes on to say that to enable informed policy making on the prevention, eradication and control of invasive species, it is critical that studies are expanded to show the extent of the problem and in particular the impact that these weeds, pests and diseases have on people’s lives. He says “numbers are not enough; decision makers need to know the tangible effects invasive species are having on the individual farmers and their crops.”…

…The report ”Economic Impacts of Invasive Alien Species: A Global Problem with Local Consequences" is authored by the Global Invasives Species Programme.

Photo of kudzu, the invasive plant that engulfs the southern U.S., by Jan Kronzell

Lloyd’s counts cost of not enough disasters; Blair's new job

One of the strange ambiguities of the insurance business, as reported by the Times (UK). Fewer disasters, crashes, and quakes have led to reduced premiums, and so Lloyds is cutting capacity. Insurance moves in closely watched cycles, and this is a loosening spell. A brisk hurricane season or a welter of property damage from some other source could change all that in the next renewal season. But for now, Lloyd's and others are pulling back, rather than right unprofitable or downright dangerous policies. Faltering stock markets mean than insurance companies can't rely on gains from their investment portfolios to bail out the insurance side of the business. As a result, insurers take a deep breath and solemnly vow to maintain to tighter underwriting discipline.

In other insurance news, Tony Blair has taken a job with Zurich Insurance, advising the company about climate change.

Photo of the staircase at Lloyds of London by Andrew Dunn Photo

Egypt's looming climate change nightmare.

Burning of the Library of Alexandria was one of the worst catastrophes of ancient times. The coming inundation of Alexandria might be even worse, or so says Mohammed Yahia in the Journal of the Turkish Weekly. The Nile Delta is quite vulnerable to sea level rise, and the region is the source of much of Egypt’s food. Losing the rich riverine soil to the waves would seriously compromise Egyptian agriculture and food security.

Yahia translates talk of thermal expansion and the Greenland ice into consequences for Egypt. He points out that Egypt is right behind Bangladesh and Vietnam in vulnerability to rising water. What’s more, Egypt faces a wide range of ecological stresses. Beaches are disappearing, coastal storms are more numerous and severe than they were a few decades ago. And a chronic problem stems from the loss of nutrient flow into the Mediterranean from the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1950s.

The political will to address these issues is hard to come by even for wealthy countries, and Egypt isn't wealthy. Many in Egypt and elsewhere fear that the actions to address all these impacts will be late and haphazard.

Satellite photo of the Nile Delta by NASA

China weather chaos a sign of things to come: experts

An Agence France-Presse story documents some of the trouble China is having with disaster management. Rapid growth and large population movements are exacerbating the effects of unexpected severe weather, such as snow in the south of China. The winter has halted travel in some areas, just in time for the Lunar New Year holiday. In its rapid growth, China has lost some resilience.

It's important to note that disruptions from severe weather aren't "caused" by climate change. Disasters will always be with us, to our great misfortune. But if climate instability makes the disaster even slightly more frequent or severe, the change can make the impacts on societies dramatically worse.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fish and the nitrogen deficit

Nitrogen plays a poorly understood role in a number of climate risks. At least, I don't understand the intricacies. Fertilizer run-off is a big eco-negative from many of our agriculture practices, leading to coastal deadzones and worse. And now, the global nitrogen cycle appears that even more complicated than anyone thought. From Terra Daily: Like bank accounts, the nutrient cycles that influence the natural world are regulated by inputs and outputs. If a routine withdrawal is overlooked, balance sheets become inaccurate. Over time, overlooked deductions can undermine our ability to understand and manage ecological systems.

Recent research by the Universite de Montreal (Canada) and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (Millbrook, New York) has revealed an important, but seldom accounted for, withdrawal in the global nitrogen cycle: commercial fisheries. Results, published as the cover story in the February issue of Nature Geoscience, highlight the role that fisheries play in removing nitrogen from coastal oceans....

Georgia drought -- a source

To track the drought in Georgia (that's the U.S. version), you can bookmark, which appears on the University of Georgia's website. The site lists a number of resources, including experts and sources from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Jamaican communities to benefit from small grants program from the Global Environmental Facility

Sometimes a little money can be very effective in the right spot. From the Jamaica Observer, by Petre Williams: Community groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are, this Tuesday, to gain insight into how to benefit from the US$400,000 small grants programme to aid Jamaica's adaptation to climate change. The programme, which has as its focus community-based adaptation to climate change, is geared at allowing small communities to drive adaptation efforts in the developing world.

It is small communities - typically found along the coast in countries such as Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean - which are expected to be worst affected by a changing climate. Climate change is, in turn, expected to herald sea level rise, more severe storms/hurricanes and warmer global temperatures. Along with that is expected lost livelihoods in such sectors as agriculture and tourism, which are highly susceptible to changing weather patterns.

Meanwhile, the local programme, to be launched formally on February 15, is being financed by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

"The idea behind next Tuesday's training (session at the Pegasus) is to present the background objectives and requirements for participation in the programme so that by February 15 when we have the launch, we can move smoothly into implementation," said Dale Rankine, national coordinator for the GEF Small Grants Programme.

Rankine was speaking with the Observer at the greenhouse gas inventory workshop at the Pegasus Hotel last Thursday. To benefit from the programme, community groups and NGOS will be required to formulate projects that address needs in the coastal and agriculture sectors. The projects are to be globally relevant, while ensuring that the benefits of their implementation are resilient to climate change.

In addition, projects must address biodiversity conservation or the prevention of land degradation. Beyond that, agencies selected for participation must be prepared to leverage a percentage of the costs of implementing the project. Rankine said the programme - which will run from 2008 to 2012 - is looking to finance between eight and 20 projects at US$20,000 to US$50,000.

Satellite photo of Jamaica by NASA.

Denmark unveils Africa plan

Afrol News: Ahead of the 2009 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 15) to be held in Copenhagen, the Danish government has revealed plans to tackle global climate change with African countries. In this regard, the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Mrs Ulla Tomaes, will pay a five-day visit to Tanzania beginning on Thursday.

Her visit forms part of a thematic tour to gather ideas and discuss how African countries, including Tanzania can be better involved in the global cooperation to find solutions to the effects of climate change, Danish Embassy in Tanzania said. She is due to hold discussions with Tanzanian authorities on climate and sustainable development challenges facing the East African country.

She will also visit areas affected by climate change, including an unplanned settlement in Dar es Salaam in Jangwani, a low lying and poorer area of the city which suffers from flooding, over housing and over use of wood burning fuels. Tomaes will visit drought prone areas in the Arusha region, including Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro as well as inspect Danish funded development activities geared towards improving the capacity of local authorities to manage effects of climate change....

Map of Tanzania by Rei-artur,

Climate criminals and climate genocide

We will be hearing more voices like this in the years to come. From MWC News (Media with Conscience): Climate Genocide driven by First World Climate Criminals has become a harsh reality with the recent disappearance into the Bay of Bengal of the Indian Bengali island of Lohachara (former population 10,000). Bengal – including West Bengal (population 85 million) and Bangladesh (population 153 million) is a densely populated part of the world that is acutely threatened (like Louisiana and New Orleans) by First World greenhouse gas pollution, global warming and consequent sea level rises and storm surges.

While a British group Bring Climate Criminals to Justice (BCCJ) focuses on the growing global warming threat to Bangladesh (see: HERE ), the world in general simply ignores the Anglo-Celtic and First World threat to Bengal – as indeed it has for 250 years since the Battle of Plassey (June 23, 1757) in which the British under Clive defeated the treason-compromised Bengalis under their Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah...

Bengal suffered egregiously at the hands of the British over 2 centuries but in the last 4 decades the role of British has been taken over by the Americans....

Flag of the British Raj from Barryob,

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Big business says addressing climate change 'rates very low on agenda'

Climate change has drifted down on the list of concerns for the world's business leaders, according to this story from the Independent (UK). The consulting firm Accenture conducted a survey of "more than 500 businesses from the U.S., Germany, Japan, India, and China." One theme seems to be that with the global economy in a stress-racked downturn, there's less interest in paying attention to climate instability.

The article tartly points out that this undermines the American line that business will lead the way in addressing climate instability, just in time for the Bush administration's meeting in Hawaii. Everyone is waiting for governments to to establish the rules. And that means waiting for the U.S.

Image from the Royal Natural History, volume 4, by R. Lydeker.

Now open for logging: Tongass National Forest in the U.S.

An excellent, outrageous, grind-your-teeth article from the Environment News Service documents another outrage by the Bush administration. The Tongass National Forest, a roadless, untouched wilderness in Alaska -- the largest in the U.S. -- is now ready to be chainsawed into toothpicks. This environmental crime won't even raise any revenue for the U.S. government, since roads will be built at public expense for the convenience of loggers. The adminintration seem to have undertaken this crime just for the pleasure of enraging environmentalists.

Photo of Tongass National Forest by Henry Hartley.

Choosing between food and fuel

A loooong piece by Ashok B. Sharma in MyNews (India) examines the trade-offs between agriculture and transportation. He's not impressed with biofuels and their likely consequences for India: ...

“In theory there might be enough land available around the globe to feed an ever-increasing world population and produce sufficient biomass feedstock simultaneously,” the [OECD] report said and added “but it is more likely that land-use constraints will limit the amount of new land that can be brought into production leading to a ‘food-versus-fuel’ debate.” Since land use is driven largely by profit motives, it says, diversions of cropland from food production will lead to food price increases over the next decade, the OECD report said.

Biomass production will likely put increased environmental pressure on tropical regions, whose land is most suitable for such crops, the report said. “When such impacts as soil acidification, fertilizer use, biodiversity loss and toxicity of agricultural pesticides are taken into account, the overall environmental impacts of ethanol and bio-diesel can very easily exceed those of petrol and mineral diesel,” it said. Moreover, the report questions whether developed nations have dramatically overestimated the extent to which bio-fuels can displace fossil fuels and warns that many of the more optimistic scenarios are highly unlikely to come to fruition....

Photo of an Indian tea plantation by Rightee.

The 2008 Environmental Performance Index

There's a wealth of data and cautionary thoughts in the latest installment of the Environmental Performance Index. The EPI "ranks 149 countries on 25 indicators tracked across six established policy categories: Environmental Health, Air Pollution, Water Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat, Productive Natural Resources, and Climate Change. The EPI identifies broadly-accepted targets for environmental performance and measures how close each country comes to these goals. As a quantitative gauge of pollution control and natural resource management results, the Index provides a powerful tool for improving policymaking and shifting environmental decisionmaking onto firmer analytic foundations."

The summary for policymakers notes, among other things, that, "the overall data quality and availability is alarmingly poor. The absence of broadly-collected and methodologically-consistent indicators for even the most basic concerns such as water quality–and the complete lack of time-series data for most countries–hampers efforts to shift pollution control and natural resource management onto more empirical foundations. To address these gaps, policymakers should (1) invest environmental data monitoring, indicators, and reporting; (2)set clear policy targets on the full range of important issues; and (3) undergird environmental protection efforts with performance metrics at the global, regional, national, state/provincial, local, and corporate scales."

They also supply a spreadsheet with their data, making it easy for everyone to sift through the numbers. Well worth a look.

Photo by Tomomarusan.

Cuban permaculturalist to tour Australia

From (Australia), an informative piece on Cuba's commitment to sustainability shows that a socialist government can surprise you: ...Cuban agriculture is now over 95% organic, and the city of Havana itself now produces over 60% of its fruit and vegetables within the city’s urban and peri-urban spaces, in community gardens and cooperatives. Multi-cropping, worm-farms, appropriate crops and water efficiency have led to an explosion in urban agriculture, and local food production has been a source of employment, while cutting down on unnecessary transport costs.

At the same time, Cuba has been engaging in a massive reforestation campaign, and has invested massively in alternative energy production, particularly solar and biofuels. When the World Wildlife Fund released their Living Planet report in 2007, only one country — Cuba — managed to meet the criteria set for sustainable development, by “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems”...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Our eroded past

Climate change presents many urgent challenges. Sorting out which one are most urgent demands careful thought, and the answers are rarely obvious and noncontroversial. We'll probably need to make sacrifices. This story from the JournalLive (UK -- Newcastle and Tyne) prompted these thoughts, since it deals with impact of climate change on various ancient sites in the northeast of England.

What does it mean to abandon the past to the consequences of our actions? There's even a question as to whether we should heed the past that much at all. Years ago, an Egyptian economist pointed out that if his government simply took the most basic efforts to identify and do a few simple protections for all the ancient sites they new about, the effort would cost many times the gross national project of Egypt. In England, the National Trust and others are considering similar issues for the Giant's Causeway, Lindisfarne Castle, and other sites exposed to intensified winds and waves.

Photo of Lindisfarne Castle by Monkeyatlarge.

Bush administration doing great job on climate change, say Bush administration officials

From the Wall Street Journal. The authors are James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Daniel M. Price, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. They say, "The U.S. is committed to working with other nations to agree on a global outcome that is environmentally effective and economically sustainable. That is the only kind of agreement that can win public support...." That's good to know.

Four horsemen of the apocalypse by Durer.

Some adaptation-themed news from the WEF meeting in Davos

Food and water worries are top priorities, say Davos speakers · Food/Cooking
AFP - 4 hours ago
DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) — Warnings of a water and food crisis seemed incongruous among the lavish hospitality of Davos this year, but the danger was ...
Food supplies too scarce to meet relief needs
Financial Times, UK - 15 hours ago
The debate on food spilt into discussions about water sustainability and rising energy prices in Davos yesterday. Delegates highlighted agriculture's role ...
Ban warns business on looming water crisis
Financial Times, UK - Jan 24, 2008
By Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in Davos Businesses are doing too little to tackle a looming water crisis, Ban Ki-Moon warned the World Economic Forum on ...
Water scarcity needs to be put high on global agenda: UN Economic Times
UN Calls Water Top Priority The Associated Press
UN Secretary-General: World must address looming water crisis Earthtimes
all 126 news articles »
DAVOS-UN aid chief warns of irreversible spiral in Kenya
Reuters South Africa, South Africa - 5 hours ago
Holmes said that about 250000 people had been displaced by the violence, and double that number needed help such as basic food, clean water, and healthcare. ...

$180 million scheme to revitalise African soil

An effort to improve the sustainability of small African farms. From The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, announced the initiative on Friday. The programme aims to work with 4.1m farmers and regenerate 6.3m hectares of farmland in a bid to reverse poverty and hunger.

Initial funding for the scheme has come from a US$164.5m grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US$15m from the Rockefeller Foundation. "AGRA's Soil Health Program will breathe new life into soils where rapid nutrient loss is sapping the ability of farmlands to sustain crops," said Dr Namanga Ngongi, president of AGRA.

"This will improve the sustainability of small-scale farms, raise the yield and income of poor farmers - most of whom are women - and help protect the natural resource base of soil and water." The programme will run alongside existing AGRA initiatives, including its Seeds Program, to help small-scale farmers use new high-yielding varieties of Africa's staple food crops. AGRA bosses said the investment will help African governments achieve a target of 6% annual growth rates in agriculture....

Definition of chutzpah -- sell your subsidized water back to the government

Hats off to the hardworking, sod-busting California farmers. The government supplies them with water at less than cost. They turn around and sell it back to the government. Another instance of the byzantine, unintelligible ways of U.S. agriculture. From Yahoo News, via Associated Press: With water becoming increasingly precious in California, a rising number of farmers figure they can make more money by selling their water than by actually growing something. Because farmers get their water at subsidized rates, some of them see financial opportunity this year in selling their allotments to Los Angeles and other desperately thirsty cities across Southern California, as well as to other farms.

"It just makes dollars and sense right now," said Bruce Rolen, a third-generation farmer who grows rice, wheat and other crops in Northern California's lush Sacramento Valley....

Map of California water canals from the U.S Congressional Budget Office.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Scramble versus Blueprints: The latest Shell scenarios

Back in the 1970s, Shell Oil developed scenarios planning, a detailed process to make flexible long-term strategies. The technique has spread, but Shell still makes use of the method they helped pioneer. The company's latest round of scenarios have been much in the news, and the Oil Drum has the text of internal Shell e-mail that summarizes their conclusions:

...At Shell, we think the world will take one of two possible routes. The first, a scenario we call Scramble, resembles a race through a mountainous desert. Like an off-road rally, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of "more haste" will often be "less speed" and many will crash along the way.

The alternative scenario, called Blueprints, has some false starts and develops like a cautious ride on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technical innovation provides for excitement.

Regardless of which route we choose, the world's current predicament limits our maneuvering room. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to population growth and economic development, and Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand. As a result, society has no choice but to add other sources of energy - renewables , yes, but also more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels such as oil sands. Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue.

Stories about recent study on the impact of climate change on human health

Tony McMichael, an authority on the health impact of climate change, has a paper in the latest British Medical Journal. It's been getting a ton of coverage....

The Value of Wilderness
Flathead Beacon, MT - 4 minutes ago
Today, they protect human health and offer models that will help us confront the challenges of climate change. And for tens of millions of us, ...
DuPont Chief Science & Technology Officer Offers Perspectives on ...
Web Services Journal, NJ - 47 minutes ago
The discussion addressed aging societies, climate change, disease eradication, nuclear non- proliferation and environmental degradation, and the important ...
Climate change will have massive impact on human health
Earthtimes, UK - 2 hours ago
The threat posed by climate change to human health is far greater than the predicted economic impact, according to a paper by Australian researcher Tony ...
Doctors can no longer ignore climate change, says RCP president, UK - 2 hours ago
There is no greater threat to human health and survival than climate change. For those of us working as doctors, its imminent and severe threat dwarfs any ...
Climate health warning sounded, UK - 5 hours ago
The impact of climate change upon global health levels will be "huge" unless world governments take steps to address the problem, an expert has warned. ...

New radar satellite technique sheds light on ocean current dynamics

Some exciting developments in radar will tremendously enhance the study of ocean surface currents. The story from Innovations Report in Germany reports on the SeaSAR 2008 workshop held this week in ESRIN, ESA's European Centre for Earth Observation in Frascati, Italy.

The gathered scientists discussed number of gadgets with a high cool factor, such as Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR). The story is acronym-riddled and a little technical, and the science is similar to the radar guns that cops use to check car speeds. But don't let that deter you.

ASAR image of a 2002 oil spill off the coast of Spain by Envisat

Benin's Cotonou - a city slowly swallowed by waves

Agence France-Presse runs a heartbreaking story from Benin about the impact of sea level rise on people's daily lives. A regional plan is underway to build dikes. Numerous haphazardly planned dikes actually worsen the problem of erosion: ... Huge breakers constantly battering Benin's coast -- and the rest of the shoreline on the Gulf of Guinea -- are starting to take their toll. Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Nigeria are also fighting to stop the sea from gulping up chunks of land.

In tiny Benin, the erosion on its narrow stretch of coastline was first recorded a century ago. The phenomenon has been exacerbated by the rise in seawater levels, attributed to global warming, and by massive construction projects such as the Nangbeto dam in Benin and the Akossombo dam in Ghana, as well as the development of deep-water ports at Cotonou and Lome, according to experts....

Map of Benin from the U.S. State Department's World Factbook

American Geophysical Union's statment on climate change

A link to the American Geophysical Union's statement about the human role in climate change. A sober statement of the science won't make much headway against Senator James Inhofe's collection of 400 denialists, composed of outright lunatics, shills, and serious scientists who have objected to being misquoted and mischaracterized.

But the AGU's summary is still worth having: ...With climate change, as with ozone depletion, the human footprint on Earth is apparent. The cause of disruptive climate change, unlike ozone depletion, is tied to energy use and runs through modern society. Solutions will necessarily involve all aspects of society. Mitigation strategies and adaptation responses will call for collaborations across science, technology, industry, and government. Members of the AGU, as part of the scientific community, collectively have special responsibilities: to pursue research needed to understand it; to educate the public on the causes, risks, and hazards; and to communicate clearly and objectively with those who can implement policies to shape future climate.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sunscreens go viral on coral

Ingredients used in sunscreen lotion damage coral reefs, according to this story from Environmental Science and Technology Online. The chemicals activate viruses that hasten and intensify coral bleaching. Thousands of tons of this glop washes off swimmers and disrupts the ecosystem of reefs. Maybe you should just stay out of the water.

Photo of bleached coral by US Geological Survey.

Southern drought could shut down nuclear plants

The once-moribund nuclear industry has seized upon climate change as their salvation. The mantra is, "No carbon emissions!" Even people who should know better -- people I respect -- have signed on.

The pro-nuke mantra becomes less plausible when you consider the huge volume of carbon involved in mining uranium, processing the ore, transporting fuel to and fro, and disposal. And let's not even worry that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository is dead, and that proliferation worries remain every bit as pressing as in the past.

Americans seem hardwired to love nuclear power plants, and give them major subsidies. Apologists name a price of $5-$7 per kilowatt hour, but that seems like a fairy tale. If the actual cost of nuclear power plants were visible to the market, the option would become even less attractive. If we subsidized wind and solar to similar degree, we'd be living in a Jetsons alternative energy fantasy, with solar air cars and off-the-grid houses hovering above pretty green lakes.

Every time a major objection appears, the pro-nuclear claque assures us that we'll engineer our way out of the problem. "We'll build better plants in the next round -- more money, please!" But the cooling issue is one area where the green pretensions of nuclear power stand revealed. A story in USA Today shows how the drought-parched southeastern U.S. states are having a harder time cooling their reactors: ...An Associated Press analysis of the nation's 104 nuclear reactors found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants' turbines.

Because of the year-long dry spell gripping the region, the water levels on those lakes and rivers are getting close to the minimums set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Over the next several months, the water could drop below the intake pipes altogether. Or the shallow water could become too hot under the sun to use as coolant.

"If water levels get to a certain point, we'll have to power it down or go off line," said Robert Yanity, a spokesman for South Carolina Electric & Gas, which operates the Summer nuclear plant outside Columbia, S.C....

Appropriate water resources management to mitigate impacts of drought and floods: Tanzania

From Tanzania, Deodatus Mfugale writes a detailed story about the impact of drought and flood in the city of Mwanza (from IPP Media): ....Speaking at the Second Basin wide Stakeholder Consultative Conference for the Zambezi Basin in Windhoek, Namibia, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development in Malawi, G. Malunga, said that taking an integrated approach to developing and managing water resources can more effectively tackle specific water challenges such as controlling flooding, mitigating the effects of drought, and eliminating water-borne diseases.

It implies that in order to mitigate the effects of the Mwanza flash floods, for example, residents should embark on proper planning of settlements on the slopes and hilltops. Moreover, settlements should be built in a discernible order providing room for the construction of drainage systems including storm drains so that water is directed through a defined ``route`` down the slopes and thus save houses from being washed away. It is all within the concept of managing water and land related resources to improve the social welfare of the residents and at the same time sustain the ecosystem. ...

Wingspread statement on the Precautionary Priniciple: tenth anniversary

From a great blog, Effect Measure, a bit of history about the precautionary principle. Many have criticized the precautionary principle for vagueness and other flaws, but at the worst it's a significant starting point. And it's especially important in discussions of climate change adaptation, since we are often required to make choices with a lack of complete scientific knowledge:

This week sees the tenth anniversary of an important event in the American environmental movement, although few people know it (even some who were there had forgotten the date). In late January, 1998, a group of 32 environmental scientists, activists and scholars sat down together at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin to hash out a consensus statement on The Precautionary Principle. After a grueling three days, the statement was put into final form on January 25 (just in time to see my beloved Green Bay Packers lose the Superbowl. Is history repeating itself? Aargh!).In the ten years since Wingspread, the Precautionary Principle has itself spread its wings. It has developed into a nuanced and flexible paradigm that has affected the thinking of both the public and the scientific community.

Image of precautionary-based decision model from the Massachussetts Precautionary Principle Project, via the Science and Environmental Health Network.

Stories from the American Meteorological Society meeting in New Orleans, as of 9:00 am, EST
Forecasters Debate Hurricanes, Warming
The Associated Press - 4 hours ago
The venue for the 88th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society could not have been more conducive to the discussion: The Ernest N. Morial ...
Climate change and hurricanes stir debate among weather experts Biloxi Sun Herald
google news commentComment by Dr. Kevin Trenberth Head of the Climate Analysis Section, NCAR
all 231 news articles »

BBC News
Unmanned aircraft could boost hurricane-monitoring
Reuters - Jan 22, 2008
At an American Meteorological Society meeting in New Orleans, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists announced a three-year program ...
Robot planes to take on "dangerous, dull, or dirty" missions USA Today
Send in the drones Palm Beach Post
all 15 news articles »
Weathering the Storm
Canadian Underwriter, Canada - 21 hours ago
A computer simulation in the late 1990s, presented at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society, suggested hurricane losses could be in the ...
Scientists To Preview New Climate Change Research · Science/Tech
Science Daily (press release) - Jan 17, 2008
... present their latest findings at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. NCAR researchers will discuss connections between hurricanes ...