Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Climate experts, biologists in Orlando to ponder climate change's effect on Florida wildlife

Orlando Sentinel: … Worried climate experts and biologists are meeting this week in Orlando for what they think is the first conference of its kind. They will try to come up with strategies for the survival of creatures that are vulnerable to abrupt changes in climate. In truth, scientists don't know precisely what will happen. Environments are complex. And temperature increases hinge on efforts to reduce pollution that causes global warming. Some flora and fauna could even benefit from changing climate.

…"We have to move beyond thinking about what's good and what's bad," said Tim Breault of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is host for the conference. "We have to look first at how things will change and what that means."

…Florida has unusual challenges because of a pronounced climate boundary, slicing roughly from Tampa Bay through Orlando to Cocoa. To the north, ecosystems are adapted to cooler weather, with periodic freezes. To the south, the weather and wildlife are more tropical. A long list of plants and animals don't cross that line. Manatees, for example, can't survive North Florida winters, except at springs or waters heated by power plants. Meanwhile, imperiled Atlantic sturgeons depend on a familiar temperature and predictable currents in North Florida rivers that flow to the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists think global warming could mean havoc for Florida's thermostat, causing such a rapid shift in that climate boundary that some species would perish before they adjust. Other dramatic changes could occur, said Virginia Burkett, researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey. She cited projections that areas south of Orlando could see much less rain, as well as temperatures several degrees hotter. It's more difficult to say whether the region north of Central Florida would be drier or wetter. In general, much of Florida would see "more frequent and more intense droughts" if the current rate of global warming continues, Burkett said.

…Wildlife experts think the most important step now is to expand and protect existing habitat and wildlife refuges, including one of the most unusual in the nation. "Restoring the Everglades is more important than ever," said Paul Souza, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor in Vero Beach. "We can improve the health of species, which will give many of them more of a chance to adapt to impacts."

Florida state seal

Cloud Radar - Predicting the weather more accurately

Science & Technology Facilities Council (UK): The weather. It’s the one topic of conversation that unites Britain – umbrella or sun cream? Now scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council have developed a system that measures the individual layers of cloud above us which will make answering the all-important weather questions much easier in future. The Cloud Radar will not only allow forecasters to predict the weather more precisely, the information gathered will also enable aircraft pilots to judge more accurately whether it is safe to take off and land in diverse weather conditions, offering a powerful safety capability for civil airports and military air bases.

Developed over 10 years by researchers and engineers at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, in collaboration with the Met Office, the Cloud Radar can take a complete and accurate profile of cloud or fog up to 5 miles overhead. Operating at 94 GHz, 50 times higher in frequency than most mobile phones, the radar measures the cloud base height, its thickness, density and internal structure as well as providing similar information on cloud layers at higher altitudes.

…Brian Moyna, Senior Systems Engineer at STFC said: “In a nutshell, our Cloud Radar takes a slice of cloud and provides a complete and accurate vertical profile. Compared to conventional pulsed radar instruments, this radar is a low power, high sensitivity, portable instrument that uses all solid state components for lower cost and increased reliability.”vThe Met Office has just purchased a Cloud Radar which is being trialled at sites around Britain. Additionally, a Cloud Radar has also been acquired by the University of Marburg in Germany.

…Tim Bestwick, Chief Executive of CLIK said “This is an exciting example of how fundamental scientific research can result in such useful and practical applications, in this case, with more accurate weather forecasting and the potential to make our skies a safer place.”

Cloud Radar deployed at field station, photo from Science & Technology Facilities Council website

Food security hostage to climate trends

IPS News Service: More than 50 African leaders meeting at the United Nations this week focused on strategies to overcome a myriad of interrelated problems -- food shortages, droughts, HIV/AIDS, an energy crisis, climate change and military conflicts -- on the troubled continent. "It is a sad irony to note that those who contribute to climate change less are those who suffer from it the most," stressed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his opening remarks to the 63rd annual General Assembly, which ends Oct. 1.

"Although Africa contributes only about 3.8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, its countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change in the world due to a warmer climate, more exposure to rainfall, poor soils and flood plains," explained Abdoulie Janneh, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa. This vulnerability has constrained agricultural production and worsened food insecurity, Janneh said.

In a report on how climate change is deepening the global food crisis, James Paul and Katarina Wahlberg of the U.S.-based Global Policy Forum warned that the negative effects range from droughts and desertification, to more frequent and serious storms, intense rainfalls and floods. "Agriculture and climate change are tied together in a 'feedback loop'," they concluded....

U.S. flood insurance endangers Puget Sound salmon, orcas

Environment News Service: The National Flood Insurance Program is pushing orcas and several runs of salmon towards extinction, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, according to a regulatory finding issued today by scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service. The National Flood Insurance Program is implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. Without making the changes called for by the Fisheries Service, cities and counties around the Puget Sound could lose their eligibility for federal flood insurance. A total of 252 Washington jurisdictions currently participate in the flood insurance program, including 39 counties, over 200 cities and towns, and two tribal reservations.

The federal fisheries agency issued the finding, known as a biological opinion, as required by a 2004 federal court decision. In the case National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service, Judge Thomas Zilly of the federal district court in Seattle found that FEMA's flood insurance program encouraged floodplain development and harmed salmon already listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

He ordered FEMA to consult with the Marine Fisheries Service to ensure compliance with the Act, and the document issued today is the result of that consultation. "We have always known that building homes and businesses in the floodplain was dangerous and economically senseless," said John Kostyack, excecutive director of wildlife conservation and global warming at the National Wildlife Federation. "With global warming causing sea level rise and intensified storms, the risks of such development are now higher than ever. With this decision, we now have a tool for reducing risks to both wildlife and people," said Kostyack…

Ferry boat arriving at the dock in Puget Sound, shot by William Ward, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Hurricane Ike's lingering impact on the Great Lakes

US Geological Survey: Although Hurricane Ike is long gone, its impact lingers more than a thousand miles from where it made landfall. Runoff from tributaries dumped massive amounts of sediment into Lake Michigan, contaminating the water, compromising near-shore navigation and raising E coli bacteria to levels unsafe for swimming. According to Richard Whitman, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) expert on beach health, "The local effects that Ike had on Lake Michigan's Indiana shoreline, water depth, and water quality have been profound."

While assessing Ike's impact on the lake, Whitman noted that "The velocity and height of a tributary emptying into Lake Michigan at Portage, Indiana went off the chart. We measured a tremendous amount of sediment accumulation Near Ogden Dunes." USGS scientists use high tech, state-of-the-art equipment in the lake to measure runoff, the lake's currents, and sediment input during storms. These data are used to forecast whether a beach is unsafe for swimmers. Beaches are subject to high bacteria levels following storms….

E. coli, image from US Food and Drug Administration

Monday, September 29, 2008

Search is on for climate change-resistant crops

Cosmos: Thousands of crops, from banana to sweet potato, are being screened to identify varieties that will be most resistant to the future conditions created by climate change. The Global Crop Diversity Trust is providing around US$300,000 (A$375,000) of funding this year for researchers in 15 developing countries to screen crops for traits that will be useful in adapting food production to climate change.

The international foundation said that around US$200,000 will also be spent next year, with a continued commitment in the long term. "With crop diversity we can have an agricultural system that – if we're smart – is sustainable and productive, can feed people and fuel development," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the trust. "Without it agriculture cannot adapt to anything: pests, disease, climate change, drought, energy constraints … nothing,"

Researchers will screen the crops by growing them in different stress conditions – such as high salinity or high temperature – and assessing how well they grow. Varieties with positive traits will be put into an open access database. Some crops will also be entered into a 'pre-breeding' program. Integrating one or two genes from an old or wild variety into a modern variety is costly and difficult, says Fowler, and pre-breeding produces early-stage, new varieties with the desired traits, so that plant breeders can get a 'head start' on producing varieties for farmers' fields.

"Plant breeders often have to make quick progress so they're loathe to get involved in the kind of cutting edge research to put exotic traits in [a crop]. So the pre-breeding at least gets that first set of genes into some kind of form that is easier for a plant breeder," he said…

Global Seed Vault of the Crop Diversity Trust, Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed Vault [1]Global Crop Diversity Trust

Water table depth tied to droughts

EurekAlert: Will there be another "dust bowl" in the Great Plains similar to the one that swept the region in the 1930s? It depends on water storage underground. Groundwater depth has a significant effect on whether the Great Plains will have a drought or bountiful year.

Recent modeling results show that the depth of the water table, which results from lateral water flow at the surface and subsurface, determines the relative susceptibility of regions to changes in temperature and precipitation. "Groundwater is critical to understand the processes of recharge and drought in a changing climate," said Reed Maxwell, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who along with a colleague at Bonn University analyzed the models that appear in the Sept. 28 edition of the journal Nature Geoscience.

Maxwell and Stefan Kollet studied the response of a watershed in the southern Great Plains in Oklahoma using a groundwater/surface-water/land-surface model. The southern Great Plains are an important agricultural region that has experienced severe droughts during the past century including the "dust bowl" of the 1930s. This area is characterized by little winter snowpack, rolling terrain and seasonal precipitation.

While the onset of droughts in the region may depend on sea surface temperature, the length and depth of major droughts appear to depend on soil moisture conditions and land-atmosphere interactions.…The models showed that groundwater storage acts as a moderator of watershed response and climate feedbacks. In areas with a shallow water table, changes in land conditions, such as how wet or dry the soil is and how much water is available for plant function, are related to an increase in atmospheric temperatures. In areas with deep water tables, changes at the land surface are directly related to amount of precipitation and plant type…

Buried machinery in barn lot during the Dust Bowl, an agricultural, ecological, and economic disaster in the Great Plains region of North America, US Department of Agriculture, Wikimedia Commons

Americans for Smart Natural Catastrophe Policy applauds extension of national flood program without irresponsible expansion

MarketWatch reports on something that sounds like an astroturf group, but maybe it’s not…: Americans for Smart Natural Catastrophe Policy, a national coalition of environmental, consumer, taxpayer, free market, and insurance organizations, today applauded Congress for voting to extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through March 9, 2009, without irresponsibly expanding the program to include wind coverage. Allowing the NFIP to expire precipitously in the midst of hurricane season would have left many Americans dangerously exposed. At the same time, Congress resisted turning natural catastrophes into financial disasters by adding wind coverage to the NFIP, providing state reinsurance loans or creating a federal bailout fund to cover state losses. When the new Congress convenes next year, legislators will have to again consider further extending and reforming the NFIP. Lawmakers should work to reform the program in an environmentally-responsible and fiscally-sensible manner.

With the federal government already confronting a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, and the NFIP program already nearly $18 billion in debt, American taxpayers should not be forced to also pay for hurricane damages already covered by private insurance and reinsurance companies. If wind damage is added to the NFIP, hardworking families across the country will shoulder the cost of building and rebuilding coastal homes in the Gulf repeatedly in harm's way. A recent study by a Clinton Administration economist, Dr. Robert Shapiro, estimates that there could be as much as $161 billion in 2009 in unfair new taxpayer liabilities if Congress expands the NFIP to cover wind damage and the U.S. Gulf Coast suffers a hurricane season comparable to that of 2005. According to Towers Perrin, a global actuarial firm, the potential cost to the federal government could be as much as $200 billion if wind coverage is added to the NFIP.

"I really don't see any rational logic behind adding wind coverage. By doing this, you're essentially inviting residents to build in unsafe and environmentally-sensitive areas," said David Conrad, Senior Water Resources Specialist at the National Wildlife Federation, a member organization of Americans for Smart Natural Catastrophe Policy. "With global warming expected to create more severe and frequent storms, tacking on wind coverage is a recipe for environmental and financial disaster. It would perpetuate the damage-repair-damage cycle we're stuck in."….

Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico

Wetlands restoration no panacea for Louisiana coast

Science Daily: Counting on wetlands restoration projects to protect storm buffeted infrastructure along the Louisiana Coast is likely to be a “losing battle” that provides “false hope” and prevents endangered communities from clearly planning for their future, says a researcher from Western Carolina University (WCU). As hurricanes have pounded the Gulf of Mexico this fall, the media has been filled with the words of politicians, policy makers, NGOs and local communities touting the importance of ongoing wetlands restoration projects as long-term storm protection for coastal communities and infrastructure. Unfortunately, there’s little science to support this growing belief.

“I think that’s a potentially dangerous message” said Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at WCU. “While I think that wetland restoration is a worthy goal, there’s almost no scientific evidence that suggests that we will be able to put the wetlands back on the scale and nature needed to reduce storm impacts.”

...As a hurricane moves toward land, onshore winds push water in front of the storm and cause water levels to rise as the storm makes landfall. This storm surge can range from several to 30-plus feet and, along with the waves that accompany the storm, inflict the greatest damage to infrastructure, Young said. Wetlands can dampen the effect of storm surge, the problem is that scientists don’t fully understand the impact that adding wetlands might have. “In order to predict the impact of wetlands on storm surge, you need to have good storm surge data to understand what happened in the past. But we simply don’t have that data,” Young said. “It’s one of the gaping holes that we have in understanding what’s going on at the coast.”….

Bayou des Allemands and the town of Des Allemands, Louisiana, USA. US Army Corps of Engineers, Wikimedia Commons

Britain faces spring floods and summer droughts

Mail On Sunday (UK): Britain faces a growing number of devastating spring floods followed by droughts, climate experts have warned. Europe is warming faster than the world average, and this will result in a wetter north and a desert-like Mediterranean region, they said. Britain will suffer because our 'return period' - meteorological jargon for the time between extreme weather events - is getting shorter. Floods that occurred once every 100 years could happen every decade.

Experts from all over Europe were brought together to study computer models of the way the world climate is likely to go based on recent events. They predicted that European heatwaves like those in 2003, during which 70,000 people died, could be more frequent. The experts concluded that although the British Isles will get more rain, it will come mostly in spring deluges.

Unless we find ways of channelling and saving this water, it will be lost, to be followed by summer droughts, said European flood expert Luc Feyen. Mr Feyen, a Belgian based in Italy, said: ‘Floods in Britain may increase by 40 per cent, or even more.’

Europe’s speedy change is due to a complex mix of environmental factors, including the large land mass, the height of mountain ranges, less ocean and lakes than other areas, and the Gulf Stream which carries warm ocean currents to Britain from Florida, said European Environment Agency spokesman Oscar Romero….

J. M. W. Turner - Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway (1844), oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

Sunday, September 28, 2008

California's water crisis

San Francisco Chronicle: ….While not every community in California is suffering…, many are facing serious water shortages....

Public water agencies are only receiving 35 percent of their annual allocation of water from the State Water Project this year - the lowest level since the severe 1991 drought. In the coming year, deliveries will likely be even less. California is looking down the barrel of a potentially severe, long-term drought. We've had two extremely dry years and initial forecasts from the National Weather Service are that the drought conditions will continue into next year.

Our reservoirs are low. Our groundwater supplies are being overdrafted in some areas. And court-ordered pumping limits have restricted our ability to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California due to environmental concerns. A third dry year could have devastating consequences to California's economy at a time when many businesses, industries, workers and farmers are already struggling. In June, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought emergency and directed state agencies to take immediate action to address the drought impacts.

...The drought reminds us all of the importance of providing a sustainable water supply system capable of meeting the needs of consumers now and in the future. The governor and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have proposed a comprehensive solution to California's water crisis. It addresses conservation as well as new groundwater and surface storage facilities, conveyance facilities and environmental restoration….

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, shot by "Samuel Wong (wongsamuel)", Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Climate change blamed for declining tourism

Daily Times (Pakistan): Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), in collaboration with the Tourism Ministry and National Highway Authority (NHA), organised a seminar and photo exhibition at the Pakistan National Library auditorium on Saturday to commemorate World Tourism Day. The day bearing the theme “Tourism Responding to the Challenge of the Climate Change” was observed across the globe under the auspices of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to make international community aware of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic values. Federal Minister for Water and Power and Tourism Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was chief guest on the occasion who inaugurated the exhibition.

Anti-tourism elements debated: Addressing the ceremony, PTDC Managing Director Brig Amanullah, NHA Geberal Manager Tariq Mehmood Pirzada, Tourism Secretary Ali Arif and Richard Casting from South Africa highlighted different factors of climate changes affecting the tourism sector. They said tourism was a victim of climate change mainly due to global warming and lawlessness. They said climate change inflicted socio-economic stresses on tourists, often leading them to criminality.

Terming global warming worse than terrorism, the speakers said climate change had become a globally proved phenomenon. They also suggested different remedies to get tourism back to its place while fighting against adverse environmental changes. In this regard, they said, competent facilities for visitors should be enhanced and awareness programmes held globally….

Tourist meets a local resident on a beach in Tanzania, shot by fffriendly, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Saving the world's coral reef eco-systems

European Commission Research: Coral reefs, often teeming with marine life, are one of nature's most delicate organisms. A healthy coral reef can contain thousands of species; unfortunately, however, they are coming under immense pressure and their very survival is at risk. An international team of researchers jointly led by Newcastle University, UK, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, USA have identified where conservation efforts should be focused if coral reefs are to be saved.

Coral reefs around the world are under threat. Increases in temperature of even as little as one or two degrees, can cause coral bleaching, or can even magnify the effects of infectious diseases, killing off huge sections of coral. Certain fishing techniques, such as the use of dynamite, are also responsible for the destruction of coral reefs. For this reason No-take areas (NTAs) were set up not only to protect the fish, but the coral reefs they inhabit. According to the latest research, however, the location of these NTAs needs to be reviewed and updated.

An international team of researchers from Australia, France, Sweden, the UK and the US were brought together to conduct one of the largest studies of its kind. Together they investigated NTAs covering 66 sites across 7 countries in the Indian Ocean. Their research was published in the journal PLoS ONE. What they discovered was that conservation zones are now located in the wrong place leaving some coral reefs vulnerable to the effects of climate change. According to lead researcher Nick Graham, from Newcastle University’s School of Marine Science and Technology, urgent action is needed. 'We need a whole new approach — and we need to act now,' he said. The research showed that all existing NTAs should remain as such; however, new zones are needed to protect other coral reefs….

Reef snorkeler, shot by Masato Ikeda, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Hurricane Kyle -- a selection of stories

Hurricane Kyle speeds towards Nova Scotia's coast
CTV.ca, Canada - 4 minutes ago
Kyle has strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane and is racing toward Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At 9 pm local time the storm was 30 kilometres off Nova ...
Hurricane Kyle heads toward Nova Scotia, could miss Maine
WIBW, KS - 6 minutes ago
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The center of Hurricane Kyle looked Sunday afternoon as if it would miss Maine but hit Nova Scotia, Canada, by early Monday, ...
Maine preps even as hurricane veers toward Canada
International Herald Tribune, France - 11 minutes ago
Kyle's maximum sustained winds were nearly 75 mph (120 kph), or just barely hurricane strength. Emergency Measures officials in New Brunswick were concerned ...

Suffering the most from climate change -- Africa

The Guardian (UK): When the millennium development goals were set in the summer of 2000, another UN body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was putting the finishing touches to its latest report. The IPCC's third assessment report was issued in 2001 and warned that human activity was warming the world and that the consequences would be severe, particularly for vulnerable people in developing nations.

Six years later the IPCC repeated the trick: its 2007 fourth assessment report said much the same, while increasing the confidence in its conclusions and loosening the constraints on the likely effects. This time the world seemed ready to listen, and by 2009 world leaders have pledged to negotiate a new global climate deal that will go some way to addressing the need to cut soaring carbon emissions. Scientists warn that the years of inaction since the IPCC issued its earlier warnings could prove costly. Emissions have continued to rise, worsening the inevitable climate problems and making it more awkward for politicians to pledge to slow a rapidly accelerating runaway train. And it has also made it more difficult for the world to meet the UN's millennium development goals.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, has warned that "climate change is a serious threat to development everywhere. Indeed, the adverse impacts of climate change could undo much of the investment made to achieve the millennium development goals." …Sha Zukang, UN under-secretary general for economic and social affairs, told the same meeting that "climate change is fundamentally a sustainable development challenge". To make progress, he said it would be necessary to "bridge the divide between actors on the environment and on development which, despite our past efforts, continues to exist."

…It is difficult to be precise about the likely impacts on specific locations. Africa's climate is complex and there is little hard data on the current conditions to feed into the models. Most global models predict long-term effects, from 2050 onwards, and only in large geographical chunks more than 100 miles across. This means the most useful predictions, such as what might happen to a particular country in the next decade or so, are the most uncertain. Nevertheless, some impacts can be predicted with some confidence. The most obvious is the effect on agriculture and food supplies. As well as the problems caused by more heavy rains and drought, rises in temperature are expected to have negative impacts on crop yields and areas of available cultivatable land…..

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Futures fires discussed in Wyoming

New West Network: Think about wildfire in the West and it’s hard to picture a rosy future, except for the sunsets bleeding through the smoke. Climate change is creating longer, hotter, more explosive burning seasons, while more and more homes sprout on flammable ground. Meanwhile, the pool of firefighting talent keeps getting smaller: there are fewer trained crews, air tankers and helicopters available than there were 20 years ago. Complicated and sometimes contradictory federal policies make it difficult for the next generation of firefighters to get the training and experience they need.

…Those were some of the topics outlined this week at a four-day conference in Jackson, Wyoming, sponsored by the International Association of Wildland Fire and the National Park Service, an event that drew about 400 firefighters, scientists and officials from land management agencies. While most are from the United States, some came from as far as Australia, Japan and Portugal. The focus of the conference was the 20th anniversary of the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park, which many described as the onset of a new era in firefighting and fire management.

“Nature is not always a gentle hostess,” recalled Bob Barbee, the park’s superintendent at the time. He called the fires of that summer “unpredictable, unpreventable, uncontrollable and finally unimaginable.” Fires that year scorched 1.4 million acres in and around the park, while torching another million acres in other places around the West.“It was the first time in my career I saw the world’s best firefighters get their butts kicked,” said Rex Mann, a planner in the Yellowstone firefighting efforts. The fires “were beasts the like of which we’d never seen before.”

…If the climate scientists are right – there were a number of them here, and they all had a similar message – future firefighting will require two times the muscle and machinery just to wrestle fires down to current levels, Frye said. If the tools and people materialize, they won’t be cheap. Firefighting has often cost the U.S. Forest Service more than $1 billion a season in recent years, draining money from other programs….

A burnt forest at Rocky Point Trail, McDonald Lake region, Glacier National Park, Montana. Shot by Wing-Chi Poon, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Clinton Global Initiative meeting discusses poverty, climate change

Associated Press: Global warming and poverty are intertwined because the world's poorest people are the ones hardest hit by changes in the climate, and solutions for both problems need to be found, panelists said Thursday at the second day of an annual conference spearheaded by former President Bill Clinton. "We need programs to match public policy to empower the poorest people and at the same time public policy to fight climate change," President Felipe Calderon of Mexico said at the panel Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Developing countries should aim for sustainable development but also be realistic in efforts to reduce inequality, said Rajendra K. Pachauri, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for sounding the alarm on global warming. "In the initial period, if one has to provide infrastructure, industrialize and at the same time provide basic services, we really don't have too many choices but to use fossil fuels," he said. But he warned developing countries against following the path of the industrialized world and encouraged them to find a new, sustainable way.

In the United States, efforts to fight global warming can be an opportunity to do the same against poverty, said Van Jones, a civil rights and environmental advocate. Working to make buildings in the United States more energy-efficient could provide millions of jobs, he said….

Demosthenes Practicing Oratory (Démosthène s'exerçant à la parole, Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ (1842-1923)

Climate change threatens international peace, Pacific Island States tell UN debate

UN News Center: Pacific Island States spoke out at the General Assembly today on the issue of climate change, promising to table a draft resolution during the climate session that will call on the United Nations to investigate the threat posed by global warming to international peace and security.

Tonga’s Prime Minister Feleti Vaka’uta Sevele used his address to the Assembly’s annual General Debate to urge other Member States outside the region to show their support for the draft resolution. “The prospect of climate refugees from some of the Pacific Island Forum countries is no longer a prospect but a reality, with relocations of communities due to sea level rise already taking place,” he said. “Urgent action must be taken now.”

The resolution is expected to ask Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to commission a report on climate change and security, and to invite the Security Council and the General Assembly to work together on possible recommendations to deal with any problems identified....

Face threat of climate change in comprehensive manner

Daily Star (Bangladesh): Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury urged the international community to face the threat of climate change in a comprehensive manner. He said this while he was speaking at an event on “Climate Change” hosted jointly at the UN Headquarters by Bangladesh, Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK on Wednesday.

Describing climate change as a major threat to development he said adequate resources must be transferred to the more vulnerable groups of nations like the least developed countries (LDCs) in order to enable them to combat and surmount the threat, says a press release. “The climate change debate must be `depoliticised' and the developed and major developing countries must bear the burden of the costs incurred in transferring the relevant technology to the poorer and more vulnerable countries”, he said.

…Another report adds: Iftekhar called upon Commonwealth countries to focus on ensuring food security for its citizens. He was addressing the Special Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (SCHOGM), at the United Nations Headquarters on Wednesday, says a press release. He said, “All Millennium Development Goals critically hinge on poverty and hunger, all other goals on health, education, supply of safe drinking water and women empowerment largely depended on defeating the scourge of hunger.”

Bangladesh map from the CIA World Factbook

Study says methane from ocean floor is 'time bomb'

CTV.ca (Canada): New research suggests there may be a methane "time bomb" on the ocean floor threatening to catastrophically warm the climate and Canadian scientists wonder what effects this may have on people's efforts to combat global warming. Preliminary findings from an international study suggest that significant amounts of methane gas -- a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide -- are being released from the ocean floor off Russia's north coast.

Permafrost on the ocean floor is currently holding the methane back. But the researchers, working from a ship off the Russian coast, say that the permafrost appears to be melting, causing methane gas to bubble to the surface. Marianne Douglas, the head of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute at the University of Alberta, said this latest research raises some important questions. "It's a time bomb because, as the permafrost thaws -- and we don't know how fast it will thaw -- it's going to slowly and maybe catastrophically at some point, release all that methane that's trapped underneath as a solid," she said….

Locations of known and inferred gas hydrate (methane clathrate) occurrences in oceanic sediments of outer continental margins and permafrost regions. US Geological Survey

Friday, September 26, 2008

Air conditioning could 'heat up' London

H & V News: The large scale installation of air conditioning to combat rising temperatures in London could make conditions in the capital even hotter – according to a draft report on climate change issued by the mayor’s office. The draft London climate change adaptation strategy issued by Mayor of London Boris Johnson states: “In order to avoid unsustainable adaptation, when considering possible adaptation options, the wider implications of the action should be assessed over the lifetime of the action. “For example, air conditioning is not considered to be a sustainable adaptation action except in extreme circumstances (because of the large energy demands),”

A particular concern raised by the report is the effect on the ‘urban heat island’ within London by waste heat from air conditioning systems. This is where heat generated in the city by traffic, air conditioning systems and other energy uses adds to the heat being radiated from the buildings and roads, further raising temperatures in the area and meaning there is little let up during a heat wave. The report says the contribution to the urban heat island by human activity – known as anthropogenic - is thought to be “minimal across” the whole of London at the moment, but significant in high density areas.

The report said: “In Westminster and the City of London modelling suggests that the anthropogenic contribution, calculated using the total energy demand for buildings and traffic, may be a significant contribution to urban heating….

Typical airconditioning unit. Shot by Achim Hering, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Swiss Re and Oxfam launch joint risk management initiative in Tigray, Ethiopia

Some great coverage for a colleague of mine, still at my former employer, Swiss Re. From ReliefWeb: Swiss Re and Oxfam America have announced a joint Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) 2008 meeting in New York on 23 - 26 September. The collaboration is aimed at helping communities most vulnerable to climate variability and change. The project focuses on an innovative pilot project to introduce weather insurance for a staple cereal crop in the village of Adi Ha, Tigray Regional State, Ethiopia. Drought-related risks are a primary concern throughout Ethiopia where 85% of the population is dependent on smallholder, rain-fed agriculture. Adi Ha is a drought-prone community that has expressed strong interest in incorporating insurance into its risk management strategy.

The pilot will adopt a holistic approach to risk management, examining the suitability of weather insurance and risk reduction measures such as seasonal forecasting and improved agricultural practices. All efforts will be undertaken in close collaboration with the local farming community with the overall objective of alleviating poverty. The efforts will be funded by Swiss Re and Oxfam America, with primary technical support being provided by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University. Ivo Menzinger, Head of Sustainability & Emerging Risk Management, commented, "Swiss Re is delighted to support Oxfam in implementing this fundamental and important work in the Tigray Province. In particular, we can combine our commitment to corporate citizenship with providing consulting support to the project on risk transfer issues."…

A typical landscape of Tigray region, Ethiopia near the archaeological site of Yeha, shot by Jialiang Gao www.peace-on-earth.org, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

World Bank to assist Nigeria on climate

AllAfrica.com, via the Daily Trust (Abuja, Nigeria): As the world continues to face the challenges of change in climatic conditions, the World Bank has expressed readiness to assist Nigeria combat environmental hazards. Speaking when he paid a courtesy call on the Senate's Environment Committee, Program Coordinator, Environment and Natural Resources Unit, Africa Region of the World Bank, Dr. Herbert K. Acquay, said the Bank has established a fund to help check global warming.

According to him, "Climate change is a very important area of interest to the World Bank and a fund has been established to help control the problem. I want to appeal to you to make a strong case for Africa at a meeting that is coming up next month, so as to convince the top management to consider your country." In her speech earlier, Chairman Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, Senator Grace Folashade Bent (PDP, Adamawa South) had said that the country is facing environmental challenges.

"Nigeria is bedeviled with a lot of environmental problems because of our geographical location. There is desertification in the North, oil spill in the Niger Delta that causes water pollution and gas flaring with the attendant air pollution. We have serious gully erosion in the South East region which threatens to wash off some communities if nothing is done soon. Global warming has led to flood which is a big problem today. We learnt that the size of the crack on the ozone layer is now the size of West Africa. So we need the support of the World Bank to tackle these problems," she said….

Haiti warns hurricanes set country back years

Reuters: Recent hurricanes have devastated Haiti, killing hundreds and destroying years of fragile economic progress in the hemisphere's poorest nation, President Rene Preval said on Friday. Around 700 people were killed when the Caribbean country was battered by tropical storms Fay and Hanna and hurricanes Gustav and Ike in just a few weeks. "The damage caused by the passage of these four successive hurricanes in less than two months has set Haiti back several years," Preval told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The U.N. says Haiti's government and its mission are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster in a country where many of 9 million people live on less than $2 a day. The crisis threatens Preval's efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and stability in Haiti, which has seen little but upheaval since it ended French rule more than 200 years ago. Deadly riots sparked by soaring food prices struck the country in April and helped topple the government.

The U.N. has appealed for $108 million in aid for Haiti and Preval urged more longer-term reconstruction efforts beyond immediate food and disaster relief. "We have to break this paradigm of charity in our approach to international cooperation... because charity has never helped any country to get out of underdevelopment," he said….

Recent UK flood chaos - time for action!

Edie.net: Serious flooding has blighted yet another "summer". With recent flooding causing chaos all over the UK it's time for government, local authorities and water companies to come together to create a framework for effective flood risk management. Held in November, The Future of Flood Management conference gathers together a pan-industry line-up of experts to discuss the industry's response to the Pitt Review, the critical legislative changes, and what's been learnt from last summer's floods.

Sir Michael Pitt has announced he will be speaking at the New Civil Engineer conference, which takes place in London at the Earls Court Exhibition. Sir Michael will be outlining his latest vision for meeting the flooding challenge, 6 months on from the official release of the Pitt Review. Antony Oliver, Editor of New Civil Engineer and chair for the conference has commented, "The Pitt Review has set the agenda for fighting the flooding problem, but we are yet to see how the industry will respond to the recommendations. I am very much looking forward to hearing from Sir Michael in person and discussing what action government, local authorities and water companies must take to make real progress on this crucial issue"….

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why climate change could wither Santa Barbara agriculture

In the Santa Barbara Independent, Sam Kornell writes a thoughtful, loooong essay about climate impacts on California’s wine growers: For 40 years, Richard Sanford has grown some of Santa Barbara’s most admired pinot noir wine grapes. …In a recent interview with The Independent, Sanford was asked about studies suggesting that the California wine industry may be threatened by climate change. A 2006 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, found that wine production in the state may decline by as much as 80 percent by 2100. Wine grapes, the study’s authors noted, are sensitive to unusually hot and cold temperatures, wind, weeds, and pests—all of which are expected to be intensified by global warming. Though many vintners, particularly in Napa and Sonoma counties, have said they fear that climate change will seriously harm their industry, Sanford was circumspect. “I don’t know that school’s out on what the effects of climate change will be,” he said. “There’s a lot of different speculation, and I don’t think anybody fully knows what’s going to happen.”

Santa Barbara is not one of California’s biggest agricultural producers, but measured against virtually every other part of the country, it’s an ag utopia. In 2007, crop revenue surpassed $1.1 billion—the highest figure ever. Bill Gillette, the county’s agriculture commissioner, conservatively calculated its overall effect on the Santa Barbara’s economy was somewhere in excess of $2.2 billion. That accounts for 10 percent of the total economy. It’s also a major source of tax revenue for the county government, which leans particularly hard on bed taxes supported by the booming wine tourism industry.

…Nevertheless, the data marshaled by the CCSP report suggests that on balance, the overall consequences of climate change on agriculture in Santa Barbara—and California, generally—will be negative. This becomes apparent as you run down the list of top cash crops. Cattle, the county’s seventh biggest moneymaker, are acutely sensitive to drought, which is virtually certain to occur more frequently and for longer periods as the greenhouse effect intensifies. Apart from cattle, the rest of the county’s agriculture is almost entirely given over to horticulture: fruits, flowers, and vegetables. According to the CCSP, horticulture particularly is vulnerable to climate change because such crops tend to be more fragile than cereals such as grain or corn. Bring on a big drought, and fruit and vegetables wither.

…Looming over all of these projected problems, however, is the likelihood that the most devastating potential consequence of climate change will be a sharp reduction in the world’s supply of freshwater—not a good portent for Santa Barbara…..

California wine grapes, shot by Thomas Oldcastle, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Thames flood predictions realistic

Greenbang: The findings of a Met Office and Environment Agency (EA) study say current government predictions and previous flood scenarios are realistic and that London won’t be submerged under water any time soon. The Estuary 2100 Project found sea level rise in the Thames over the next century due to thermal expansions of the oceans, melting glaciers and polar ice is likely to be between 20cm and 90cm. But there remains much uncertainty about the contribution of polar ice melt to sea level rise. By their most extreme estimates it may cause levels to rise by two metres.

The good news is that climate change is less likely to increase storm surge height and frequency in the North Sea than first thought. Future peak freshwater flows for the Thames could increase by around 40 per cent by 2080. Dr Jason Lowe, head of mitigation at the Met Office, said: “Having greater clarity on things such as storm surge frequency is tremendously valuable and not just from a scientific point of view. This research will help to direct investment where it is most needed to manage the impacts of climate change.”….

Gravesend in North Kent, on the Thames, shot by Clem Rutter, Rochester Kent, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Typhoon Hagupit -- a selection of stories

UK engineer killed in China storm
BBC News, UK - 54 minutes ago
A British engineer has died after a typhoon hit his container ship in the seas off southern China. Graham Ross, 52, from Liverpool, broke his back and legs ...
Storms batter China, 18 killed: report
The Age, Australia - 2 hours ago
Torrential rain left at least 18 dead in China, including a Briton, and 17 missing, as Typhoon Hagupit pounded the south and another storm battered the ...
17 ROK ship sailors missing in typhoon in south China
Xinhua, China - 4 hours ago
GUANGZHOU, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Rescuers were searching for 17 sailors who went missing after their cargo ship ran aground in typhoon Hagupit in south China ...
Typhoon Hagupit moves into Vietnam after killing 10 in China
Xinhua, China - 4 hours ago
NANNING, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Typhoon Hagupit, which killed 10 people in south China since

Flooding might help lower emissions from wetlands

Science Daily: River floods and storms that send water surging through swamps and marshes near rivers and coastal areas might cut in half the average greenhouse gas emissions from those affected wetlands, according to recent research at Ohio State University. A study suggests that pulses of water through wetlands result in lower average emissions of greenhouse gases over the course of the year compared to the emissions from wetlands that receive a steady flow of water.

The study compared the emission of methane from wetlands under two different conditions, one with a pulsing hydrology system designed to resemble river flooding and one with a steady, low flow of water. The research showed that in areas of deeper water within the wetlands, methane gas fluxes were about twice as high in steady-flow systems than they were in pulsing systems. Methane emissions from edge zones, which are sometimes dry, were less affected by the different types of conditions.

Methane is the major component of natural gas and is a greenhouse gas associated with global warming. While the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that human activities are responsible for about 60 percent of methane emissions worldwide, wetlands are among the natural sources. Bacteria that produce methane during the decay of organic material cause wetlands to release the gas into the atmosphere.

The study by Ohio State University scientists is part of ongoing research comparing pulsing vs. steady-flow conditions in two experimental wetlands on the Columbus campus. “Pulsing refers to a number of different conditions in wetlands – river pulses that happen on a seasonal basis, two-per-day coastal tides, and the rare but huge ones, like hurricanes or tsunamis,” said William Mitsch, the study’s senior author and director of the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park at Ohio State. “Our point is that the healthiest systems and the ones with the lowest emissions of greenhouse gases are those that have these pulses and that are able to adapt to the pulses.”….

Kiritappu peatlands in Japan, shot by Miya.m, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

WHO says climate change poses health risks

Agence France-Presse: The World Health Organization on Wednesday warned Asia Pacific countries that they could be vulnerable to health risks and food shortages as a result of climate change. Climate change is among the topics being discussed in a regional WHO conference being held in Manila, and governments are being pushed to put health issues in their national climate change mitigation plans, officials said.

Outgoing WHO regional director Shigeru Omi said that while they have been successful in dealing with controlling diseases, focus should shift to addressing "global health security" arising from global warming. "A warmer planet has contributed to some diseases, such as dengue, now occurring in areas where it was never seen before," Omi said in a statement. "Heat waves and droughts are among the many factors contributing to the current food crisis," he added. "Rising oceans could soon threaten our low-lying island states and areas in the Pacific."

A draft paper being discussed at the conference called for a regional framework of action to protect human health from climate change. The paper said health risks include heat stress, waterborne and food-borne diseases associated with extreme weather events and malnutrition. "These risks and diseases are not new, and the health sector already is tackling these problems," the paper noted. "However, the capacity to cope with potentially increasing levels of these risks and diseases is limited, particularly in developing countries."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Severe climate change costs forecast for Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, North Dakota, and other U.S. states

Science Daily: The economic impact of climate change will cost a number of U.S. states billions of dollars, and delaying action will raise the price tag, concludes the latest series of reports produced by the University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER). The new reports project specific long-term direct and ripple economic effects on North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. In most cases, the price tag could run into billions of dollars.

The studies combine existing data with new analysis and have been conducted by CIER in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislators. Last July they released similar studies on Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey and Ohio. "State and local communities would do well to prepare for a cascade of impacts on many of their most basic systems and services," says Matthias Ruth, principal investigator and director of the Center for Integrative Environmental Research at the University of Maryland. "From sewers to aquifers, highways and health systems, climate change will rewrite communities' infrastructure needs. Quick action will be expensive, but delayed action will cost even more."

Last year, Ruth conducted a similar nationwide analysis and concluded that the total economic cost of climate change in the United States will be major and affect all regions, though the cost remains uncounted, unplanned for and largely hidden in public debate. "It's important to pinpoint the economic fallout from climate change at a much more local level, because it gives citizens and policymakers data that can help them plan for changes that lie ahead," Ruth adds. "Many states are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and these studies suggest that the resulting impacts could create serious economic dislocation, running, in many cases to billions of dollars. Some of the climate changes have already been set in motion and these will create economic effects. But inaction or delay will only worsen the situation."....

Thomas Nast depicts Uncle Sam riding a snail -- labeled Congress

Does nature have rights? Ecuador may say yes

The Guardian (UK): The South American republic of Ecuador will next week consider what many countries in the world would say is unthinkable. People will be asked to vote on Sunday on a new constitution that would give Ecuador's tropical forests, islands, rivers and air similar legal rights to those normally granted to humans. If they vote yes - and polls show that 56% are for and only 23% are against - then an already approved bill of rights for nature will be introduced, and new laws will change the legal status of nature from being simply property to being a right-bearing entity.

The proposed bill states: "Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights."

Thomas Linzey, a US lawyer who has helped to develop the new legal framework for nature, says: "The dominant form of environmental protection in industrialised countries is based on the regulatory system. Governments permit and legalise the discharge of certain amounts of toxics into the environment. As a form of environmental protection, it's not working. In the same way, compensation is measured in terms of that injury to a person or people. Under the new system, it will be measured according to damage to the ecosystem. The new system is, in essence, an attempt to codify sustainable development. The new laws would grant people the right to sue on behalf of an ecosystem, even if not actually injured themselves."

Until now, all legal frameworks have been anthropocentric, or people-based. To file an environmental lawsuit requires a person to provide evidence of personal injury. This can be extremely difficult. To provide a conclusive link, say, between a cancer and polluted drinking water is, legally speaking, virtually impossible….

Get off my lawn -- the law is on my side. So says this American saltwater crocodile. This photograph was taken at La Manzanilla, Jalisco State in Mexico, on the Pacific Coast, by Tomás Castelazo. Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

Great Lakes Compact clears final hurdle

Environment News Service: Great Lakes governors and environmentalists today applauded as the House of Representatives voted 390 to 25 to approve a bill to ensure more sustainable use of the Great Lakes, which contain 90 percent of the fresh surface water in North America. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact has already been passed by the Senate and individually by the legislatures of each of the Great Lakes states. Today's congressional action completes a seven-year-long legislative approval process.The resolution now goes to President George W. Bush, who has committed to sign it.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, Council of Great Lakes Governors Chair, said, "I applaud the members of Congress for their leadership in protecting the Great Lakes. Today's action reflects a successful partnership - one that we hope to build on in order to take even bolder steps to protect our Great Lakes. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and other partners toward this shared goal."

The eight Great Lakes states reached a similar, good faith, agreement with Ontario and Québec in 2005, which the provinces are using to amend their existing water programs for greater regional consistency. The compact addresses the growing demand for water and the increased pressure to divert water from the lakes. In general, there will be a ban on new diversions of water from the Great Lakes Basin but limited exceptions could be allowed in communities near the Basin when rigorous standards are met….

The Great Lakes seen from space, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Conservation goals crucial in development projects

Environmental Research Web: There's a popular conception that including environmental protection in a development project hinders poverty alleviation. With that in mind, a team from The Nature Conservancy and Santa Clara University, both in the US, studied the completion reports from nearly 100 World Bank projects. "When biodiversity goals were added to a project, the addition did not reduce that project’s likelihood of meeting its development objectives, including things like gender equity, poverty alleviation and private sector development," Peter Kareiva of The Nature Conservancy told environmentalresearchweb. "However, if a project lacked a conservation goal, its performance with respect to the environment was significantly reduced."

The team used a large random sample of projects, comparing those with a biodiversity or conservation component to those without. In other words, they used a control group – the researchers believe theirs is the first large-scale study of this kind to take this approach. Other analyses, in contrast, have used a case study approach. "We were inspired to do this because we feel that conservation will not succeed if large populations of poor people have as their only recourse logging forests or clearing land to eke out a living," said Kareiva. "So there needs to be serious attention given to poverty alleviation and conservation at the same time."…

A few of the tubes that send water to the turbines at Itaipú dam (hydroelectric power plant) on Paraná river that flows through Braziland Paraguay. Shot by Wutzofant, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

7,900 acres of South Florida could be underwater by 2030, climate study predicts

Palm Beach Post: More than 7,900 acres of South Florida could be underwater by the year 2030 as sea levels rise, inundating coastal areas and causing billions of dollars in property loss. The prediction is made in a $50,000 Florida State University climate study released today, and while the South Florida numbers are specific to Miami-Dade County, they are meant to raise the awareness of what can happen to all of the state's disintegrating shorelines. The study found that overall, Florida's coasts will experience sea level rise in the range of .23 to .29 feet by 2030 and .83 feet to over one foot by the year 2080.

Already, the affects of higher sea levels can be seen, researchers said. A 2007 photo of a new condominium on Singer Island, whose eastern edge teetered over a 15-foot drop onto an eroded beach, is used in the report asan example of what's to come. "We need to realize that sea level rise is happening and we have to adapt to it," said Jim Murley, director of FAU's Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions, which released a policy report in conjunction with the FSU study.

…Some of the recommendations in FAU's report include:

  • Adding regulations that ensure new coastal construction is resilient to higher sea levels, as well as hurricanes.
  • Asking the state to acquire undeveloped coastline and keep it in its natural state.
  • Hurricane evacuation routes should be reassessed so that options exist if current routes are under water.
  • Construction of sea walls or other structures to stem the loss of beach sand may be needed to maintain critical developments, with financial compensation given to communities affected negatively by the walls.
The pier at Deerfield Beach, Florida. Shot by Dtobias, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License