Monday, June 30, 2014

Natural resources worth more than US$40 trillion must be accounted for

A press release from the University of East Anglia: Governments and companies must do more to account for their impact and dependence on the natural environment - according to researchers at the University of East Anglia. New research published today in the journal Nature Climate Change reveals that although some companies like Kering, a group which includes Puma and Gucci, are leading the way, more needs to be done to foster a sustainable green economy.

Researchers say that while the economic value of lost natural resources can be difficult to quantify, much more must be done to make sure that it is.

Lead author Matthew Agarwala from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “When we talk about ‘natural capital’, what we mean is the elements of nature that produce value to people – such as ecosystems, plant and animal species, freshwater, land minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes such as climate regulation.

“The value of this natural capital is largely excluded from both GDP and corporate accounting. It is assumed that these natural resources are ‘free’ – but using them has an impact on the natural world and future living standards.  “This impact is too vast to be left off the balance sheets. The World Bank has estimated the value of natural capital to be at least US$40.2 trillion. That’s around half of gross world product, 1.6 times the combined assets of the world’s 10 biggest banks, and would have paid for the Apollo Space Programme more than 300 times.

“Companies and governments around the world need to account for their economic dependence and impact on the natural world to promote sustainability and combat climate change.” The report calls for public and private sectors to work together to develop Natural Capital Accounts (NCAs) - a metric to show vital information about economic dependence and impact on the natural world. These NCAs could then be integrated into national statistics such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) accounts to provide early warning signs of emerging risks and vulnerabilities in the face of changing climate and land use....

The office of Jakob Fugger, circa 1517

Building walls to block out deadly tornadoes?

Jenna Iacurci in Nature World News: According to a recent publication in the International Journal of Modern Physics B, one possible solution to the tornadoes that annually wreak havoc in the US's Tornado Alley is to literally build three east-west great walls to block out such environmental threats forever. Professor Rongjia Tao behind the research claims these walls can be built locally at high tornado risk areas to eliminate tornado threats there first, then gradually extended.

Tornado Alley, which is a strip of land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, including most American Midwest states, gets its name because that's where the most devastating tornadoes occur each year. In 2013, there were 811 confirmed tornadoes, the majority of them in this region.

Tornado Alley is inside the "zone of mixing," where warm and moist air flowing towards the North clashes with cold air moving towards the South, accoridng to a press release. Such clashes result in violent vortexes, or supercells, which 30 percent of the time result in the deadly tornadoes we witness.

Wind speeds are also an integral part of developing tornadoes, and that's where Tao's wall idea comes in. The Northern China Plain and the Eastern China Plain, for example, are also in the zone of mixing, just like Tornado Alley. However, this region doesn't boast as high a number of tornadoes as in the US's Tornado Alley thank to three east-west mountain ranges, which protect these plains.

While there are no mountains in Tornado Alley to protect it from tornado threats like the Jiang-Huai Hills do, for example, in China, Tao proposes we create mountains of our own. However, there are the Ozarks Mountains and Shawnee Hills, but they are for the most part ineffective at providing any sort of protection, except to a few local areas, since they run from north to south, not east to west....

NOAA image of an occluded mesocyclone tornado

Sunday, June 29, 2014

North Carolina's 'climate change battle' rages on

Karen Graham in the Digital Journal: It started in 2011, when Willo Kelly, a resident of the Outer Banks in North Carolina attended a meeting held in a government conference room. There, she learned that by the end of the century, sea levels along the coast would rise as much as 39 inches.

...The 39-inch sea level rise forecast was “a death sentence,” Kelly said, “for ever trying to sell your house.” Kelly was furious at the prediction, and resolved to prove the forecasters wrong. And this moment was the start of what has been called the "nation's most notorious battle" over climate change.

Kelly was able to rally climate change skeptics and homeowners to join together, making a formidable force in her battle to persuade North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature to nix the 39-inch sea level rise report. The climate change forecast had been one of the last pieces of legislation advanced by the state's out-going Democratic governor.

...Now, even though there is almost universal agreement that sea level rise will occur, and by more than 36-inches by the end of the century, NC-20 proposed the state of North Carolina make it a law that the sea will rise by no more than eight inches. Well, actually, no one was to mention sea level rise unless it was in historical context.

...North Carolina's attempt to "outlaw" sea level rise and global warming is seen as ludicrous by environmentalists, but even so, some climate change proponents are understanding of the actions of North Carolinians, saying theirs is a natural reaction to sea level rise estimates. After all, there are now too many studies, and the information is available for everyone to see.

The main problem they have is fear,” said Michael Orbach, a marine policy professor at Duke University who has met with coastal leaders. “They realize this is going to have a huge impact on the coastal economy and coastal development interests. And, at this point, we don’t actually know what we’re going to do about it.”....

Sunset on the Outer Banks, shot by Roland Weber, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Fury over Senegal’s private land buyers

IRIN: ...A liberal land regime in Senegal over the decade has favoured large-scale acquisitions of arable land by both foreign and local investors. Dramatic changes in ownership have coincided with serious food shortages in the sub-region, a global financial crisis and a growing emphasis on the promotion of bio-fuel, with Senegal heavily promoting the planting of the controversial Jatropha tree, the seeds of which are used for the production of fuel for diesel engines.

Between 2000 and 2010, over 657,000 hectares of land, around 17 percent of Senegal’s arable land, was allocated to 17 private firms. Ten of the firms are Senegalese and the rest are foreign, according to the regional pressure group Pan-African Institute for Citizenship, Consumers and Development (CICODEV).

Under the previous administration of Abdoulaye Wade, the government pushed high profile schemes like the Return towards Agriculture plan (REVA) and the Grand Agricultural Drive for Food and Abundance (GOANA), with an emphasis on promoting agri-business and bio-fuels.

“These initiatives have led to a glut of private operators, including religious leaders and senior state officials moving in on land in rural areas,” complains Mariam Sow, coordinator of the Natural Protection Programme of international NGO ENDA.

In a May 2011 report, the Agricultural and Rural Prospective Initiative (IPAR), a sub-regional NGO which aims to provide “strategic analysis” of rural and agricultural issues, highlighted the volume of land deals in northern Senegal. IPAR drew particular attention to the case of Mbane in Saint Louis Region, where it said 232,000 hectares had been distributed to politicians, religious leaders and private operators with strong political connections under the GOANA project. The IPAR report noted that, at the time of writing, much of the land acquired had yet to be exploited....

A farm in Senegal, image by Richard Melo da Silva, public domain

Improved communication between experts and the public key in winning battle to curb climate change, claims expert

Tom Bawden  in the Independent (UK):
Scientists need to become more humble and to completely re-think the way they communicate if the battle to curb climate change is to be won, one of the world's leading climate experts has warned. Lamenting what he calls a “mismatch” between the state of climate science and the needs of society, Professor Chris Rapley called on his colleagues across the world to throw off the shackles of tradition and engage in a radically different approach to their discipline.

Climate scientists need to be more critical about their own research, more open to the work and views of other people and to communicate much more clearly with the public, said Professor Rapley, of the University College London. At the same time, they need to defend their work more robustly against climate sceptics and, in a recommendation many may find surprising, rely less on scientific fact and more on narrative techniques such as personal anecdotes, emotion and rhetoric to make their points, he added.

Professor Rapley led a big research project into climate science communication with his UCL colleagues and a number of other universities, including Oxford and King's College, London, which published its findings today.

“My experiences have convinced me that our training and development has left us insufficiently prepared to contribute as effectively as we should both to public policy, and to communicating our results and conclusions to society more generally,” Professor Rapley said.

“We are especially ill-equipped to deal with controversy in the media and to respond to public attacks on our motivations and behaviours,” he added, advocating the creation of a professional body for climate scientists that, among other things, would train scientists to engage more effectively with climate sceptics....

Jose Orozco's 1946 painting, "The Demagogue"

Reorganization of crop production and trade could save China's water supply

Seed Daily via SPX: China's rapid socioeconomic growth continues to tax national water resources - especially in the agricultural sector - due to increasing demands for food. And, because of the country's climate and geography, irrigation is now widespread, burdening rivers and groundwater supplies.

One solution to these growing problems, however, might be to reorganize the country's crop production and trade, especially in agricultural provinces such as Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Hebei, according to new report issued by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and School of Engineering and Applied Science and scientists in China and Japan.

The researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that reducing agricultural production in these provinces and importing food commodities from other provinces or nations instead could help China conserve more water. These provinces all use large volumes of water to produce crops that are later exported to wetter regions.

If balanced with more water-efficient irrigation systems locally, restructuring these regions could reduce national water use while avoiding an excessive geographically centralized agricultural production.

"Our analysis provides a framework for understanding how such policies would benefit China's water use in the future," said study co-author Denise Mauzerall, professor of environmental engineering and international affairs. In particular, corn production and trade at the domestic level might be an area to target as changes could significantly reduce national water use for irrigation."...

Irrigation of rice fields, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China, ca.1900-1919. A lantern slide taken by American missionaries

Straw albedo mitigates extreme heat

Peter Ruegg in a press release from ETH Zurich: Fields that are not tilled after crop harvesting reflect a greater amount of solar radiation than tilled fields. This phenomenon can reduce temperatures in heat waves by as much as 2 °C, as researchers from ETH have demonstrated in a recent study.

Wheat fields are often tilled immediately after the crop is harvested, removing the light-coloured stubble and crop residues from the soil surface and bringing dark bare earth to the top. Post-harvest tilling is a widely practised and common management technique in Europe. However, ploughed fields can have a negative effect on the local climate during a heat wave. This effect was addressed in a recent study conducted by researchers at ETH Zurich led by Edouard Davin, senior lecturer at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, and Sonia Seneviratne, professor of land-climate dynamics, which has now been published in the scientific journal PNAS.

Unploughed stubble is lighter in colour and reflects more solar radiation than tilled surfaces. Measurements taken show that approximately 30% of sunlight is reflected back due to the albedo effect – the albedo is a measure of the reflectance capacity of reflective surfaces. Ploughed fields reflect only 20% of incoming solar radiation. Model simulations have shown that this difference results in a 50% higher level of reflection in unploughed fields and that this in turn has a significant effect in extreme heat. In the event of a heat wave, such as the one in Europe in 2003, unploughed farm fields could reduce the local temperature by as much as 2 °C.

The hotter it becomes, the greater the albedo effect and the resulting temperature reduction. "Cropland albedo management has more effect during heat waves because there is almost no clouds during these events and more radiation can be reflected back into space", says first author Edouard Davin. However, this effect is only short term and local — perhaps at the most regional, but never trans-regional.

...The scientists also report that the cooling effect of an unploughed field cannot be attributed solely to changes in albedo values. Crop residue acts as an insulating layer that holds back moisture from deeper soil strata and releases it only slowly — this long process of evaporation also helps reduce the air temperature during a heat wave. In a ploughed field, on the other hand, moisture evaporates more rapidly and almost completely in extreme heat. Thus, there is an additional cooling effect of no-till farming through slow evaporation....

Harvested wheat field with round straw bales. Shot by Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Saturday, June 28, 2014

French scientists revive assault on pesticide, GM corn

Seed Daily via AFP: Scientists who wrote a contested study linking pesticide-treated, genetically-modified corn with tumours and liver and kidney disease in lab rats returned to the attack on Tuesday, republishing their work online.

Denying accusations of bad science, the team said their work, which was withdrawn by the journal which first printed it, had been republished in Environmental Sciences Europe, owned by Germany's Springer group.

The raw data has now been placed in the public domain for others to scrutinise, the researchers said. "Censorship of research into the risks of a technology so intertwined with global food safety undermines the value and credibility of science," the team said in a statement....

Tree species choices critical to effective coastal bioshields

Sandhya Sekar in Injudicious site and species selection while planting 'bioshields' — plantations that protect coastlines against natural disasters — could be ecologically damaging in the long term, a study warns.

Catastrophic cyclones and a devastating tsunami over the last decade have prompted the planting of bioshields, but whether they actually work to protect the coastline remains unanswered, the study published online in February in Acta Oecologica says.

Bioshields range from pristine ecosystems of mangroves to plantations of such species as Casuarina equisetifolia or ‘whistling pine’. After the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, governments across South Asia launched large-scale planting of bioshields as part of coastal restoration efforts.

Nibedita Mukherjee and colleagues from Université libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, and the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, surveyed coastal districts in the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and interviewed key persons involved in formulating the bioshield policy and implementing it.

The survey found a general lack of awareness about conservation laws relating to coastal forests. While India's state forest departments have traditionally planted trees along the coast since the 1950s, post-tsunami planting initiatives were taken up largely by non-governmental organisations with external funding....  

Coastal erosion at Benacre Broad, UK, shot by John Goldsmith, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Alarm over post-Haiyan evacuation centre shortage

IRIN: A shortage of viable evacuation centres in areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda) has humanitarians and officials in the Philippines concerned that survivors will not have alternative accommodation in case of another one. The typhoon season usually lasts from June to November.

“We urgently need to identify alternative evacuation centres,” said Conrad Navidad, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a global humanitarian agency.

Haiyan, the category 5 super-typhoon that barrelled through central Philippines in November 2013, damaged or destroyed more than one million homes across an area roughly the size of Portugal, affecting more than five million people.

An IOM survey in 10 of the most affected towns in Eastern Samar and Samar, the two provinces hardest-hit by Haiyan, showed that only 53 of the 634 of pre-Haiyan evacuation centres identified by the government could be used in the event of another typhoon.

An estimated three million people have received emergency shelter assistance in the form of tents and tarpaulins, while about 675,000 received building and roofing materials to rebuild their own homes....

Eastern Samar Province, Republic of the Philippines (Nov. 15, 2013) A Filipino marine stands guard at the village of Guiuan in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Deforestation starves fish

A press release from the University of Cambridge: Research shows forest debris that drains into lakes is an important contributor to freshwater food chains – bolstering fish diets to the extent that increased forest cover causes fish to get ‘fat’ and sparse forest leaves smaller, underfed fish. Debris from forests that washes into freshwater lakes supplements the diets of microscopic zooplankton and the fish that feed off them – creating larger and stronger fish, new research shows.

The researchers warn that, as forests are eroded through human activities such as logging, the impacts will be felt in aquatic as well as terrestrial food chains. In fact, the study was conducted at a Canadian lake chosen because it had suffered ecological disaster during the mid-20th century: acid rain as a result of the local nickel smelting industry.

Despite moves to reduce environmental impact, many areas of vegetation surrounding the lake are still in recovery. This enabled scientists to study Yellow Perch fish from different parts of a lake that has varying degrees of surrounding forest coverage.

Carbon from forest debris has a different elemental mass than carbon produced by algae in the aquatic food chain. By analysing the young Perch that had been born that year, scientists were able to determine that at least 34% of the fish biomass comes from vegetation, increasing to 66% in areas surrounded by rich forest. Essentially, the more forest around the edge of the lake, the fatter the fish in that part of the lake were.

Scientists say that the young fish in lake areas with scant forest cover were much smaller, and consequently much less likely to survive and breed. “We found fish that had almost 70% of their biomass made from carbon that came from trees and leaves instead of aquatic food chain sources,” said Dr Andrew Tanentzap from Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, and lead author of the new study, published today in the journal Nature Communications....

US Fish and Wildlife image of yellow perch 

World Bank: Climate policies could lift global GDP by trillions every year

EurActiv: Global economic output could rise by as much as an additional $2.6 trillion (€1.9tn) a year, or 2.2%, by 2030 if government policies improve energy efficiency, waste management and public transport, according to a World Bank report released on Tuesday (24 June).

The report, produced with philanthropic group ClimateWorks Foundation, analysed the benefits of ambitious policies to cut emissions from transport, industrial and building sectors as well as from waste and cooking fuels in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the United States and the European Union.

It found a shift to low-carbon transport and improved energy efficiency in factories, buildings and appliances could increase global growth in gross domestic product (GDP) by an extra $1.8 trillion (€1.3tn), or 1.5%, a year by 2030.

If financing and technology investment increased, global GDP could grow by an additional $2.6 trillion (€1.9tn), or 2.2%, a year by 2030, the World Bank said.

Climate policies could also avert at least 94,000 premature deaths a year from pollution-related diseases by 2030, improve crop productivity and prevent around 8.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases being emitted - the same as taking around 2 billion cars off the road....

Grant Wood's 1931 painting, "The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa"

India and China farmers back new climate adaptation alliance

Sophie Yeo in Responding to Climate Change:  A network of 25 indigenous communities from 10 countries has come together to share traditional knowledge on how to adapt to climate change. Countries in the network include China, Peru, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Tajikistan and Papua New Guinea.

Seed sharing between the groups will ensure that farmers grow crops that are resilient and diverse enough to withstand major damage in the face of unusual weather. “We are from different communities but we have similar problems relating to climate change,” said Akylbek Kasymov, an economist at Kyrgyz National Agrarian University, and leader of the Kyrgyz delegation at a workshop for indigenous people in Bhutan.

The International Network of Mountain Indigenous People was created by communities from mountainous regions, speaking 22 languages between them, to swap ideas, information, and even seeds, so they can be resilient in the face of a changing climate.

These mountainous regions will face similar problems as the impacts of climate change become more severe, threatening the livelihoods and traditions of their indigenous communities. These problems include melting glaciers, changes in rainfall patters, failing crops and more pests and diseases.

For instance, in Papua New Guinea, agriculture is the largest economic activity, and its natural climate means that most of its crops are fed by the rain. At a recent meeting in Bhutan, Papuan farmers highlighted how changing rainfall patterns mean that the islanders have a growing need for irrigation to keep their crops alive. Local knowledge of this system is lacking. Through the network, indigenous communities will be able to help each other by sharing this kind of information....

Tajik craft customs, from an 1860 Russian image

Fighting Ebola and its myths

IRIN: A months-long battle to bring West Africa’s Ebola outbreak under control has stretched medical teams to the limit, while mistrust in some communities has impaired prevention work and raised questions about the delivery of health warnings.

The outbreak, which was first declared in March in southeast Guinea, should have been winding down now, with cases reducing as controls take effect, said Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guinea.

Sprecher, who has worked on haemorrhagic fever outbreaks like Ebola and Marburg in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Western Kasai area, explains that outbreaks normally run their course and eventually die down because they are contained within a limited geographic area.

That looked to be the case in May with optimistic signs that the outbreak had already peaked, or was even over. But those hopes have since faded, with new cases being identified in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. At least 340 people have died of the disease so far in the three countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In Guinea, the worst-hit among the three West African countries, traditional burial rituals are still being observed despite the health hazards and many people are reluctant to be traced for medical surveillance (as a precaution for having come into contact with those infected)....

Color-enhanced electronmicrograph of Ebola virus particles, Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine - PLoS Pathogens, November 2008, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 2.5 license

Adapting to a dry season that never seems to end

Desmond Brown in IPS: The Caribbean region’s bid to become food secure is in peril as farmers struggle to produce staple crops under harsh drought conditions brought about by climate change. But scientists are fighting back, developing drought-tolerant varieties which are then distributed to farmers in those countries most severely affected.

“We are mainly affected by issues of drought and…CARDI has been looking at methods of sustainable management of production using drought tolerant varieties. We are working with certain commodities and doing applied research aimed at producing them in the dry season,” Dr. Gregory Robin, CARDI representative and technical coordinator for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), told IPS.

“We’re starting first with the crops that are more significantly affected by drought. We take, for example, dasheen, which is a crop that requires a lot of moisture and I’m working with that crop in St. Vincent and St. Lucia,” he said.

“Validation will serve Jamaica, Grenada, Dominican Republic – all the islands that produce dasheen. Sometimes it’s not cost-effective to do activities in all the islands so some of the sweet potato work done here can be used in St. Kitts, Barbados and islands with similar agro-ecological zones and rainfall patterns,” he added.

The Trinidad-based CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute), which has worked to strengthen the agricultural sector of member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for more than 30 years, is at the forefront of the research....

Sweet potato, or dasheen, shot by Forest & Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New study quantifies the effects of climate change in Europe

Science Daily via the EU's Joint Research Centre: If no further action is taken and global temperature increases by 3.5°C, climate damages in the EU could amount to at least €190 billion, a net welfare loss of 1.8% of its current GDP. Several weather-related extremes could roughly double their average frequency. As a consequence, heat-related deaths could reach about 200,000, the cost of river flood damages could exceed €10 billion and 8000 km2 of forest could burn in southern Europe. The number of people affected by droughts could increase by a factor of seven and coastal damage, due to sea-level rise, could more than triple. These economic assessments are based on scenarios where the climate expected by the end of the century (2080s) occurs in the current population and economic landscape.

These are just some of the findings of a new report by the European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, which has analysed the impacts of climate change in 9 different sectors: agriculture, river floods, coasts, tourism, energy, droughts, forest fires, transport infrastructure and human health. The report also includes a pilot study on habitat suitability of forest tree species.

Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action said: "No action is clearly the most expensive solution of all. Why pay for the damages when we can invest in reducing our climate impacts and becoming a competitive low-carbon economy? Taking action and taking a decision on the 2030 climate and energy framework in October, will bring us just there and make Europe ready for the fight against climate change.

Expected biophysical impacts (such as agriculture yields, river floods, transport infrastructure losses) have been integrated into an economic model in order to assess the implications in terms of household welfare. Premature mortality accounts for more than half of the overall welfare losses (€120 billion), followed by impacts on coasts (€42 billion) and agriculture (€18 billion).

The results also confirm the geographically unbalanced distribution of climate change related damages. For the purpose of this study, the European Union is divided into 5 regions. What the study identifies as southern Europe and central Europe south (see background for details) would bear most of the burden (- 70%), whereas the northern Europe region would experience the lowest welfare losses (- 1%), followed by the UK and Ireland region (- 5%) and central Europe North (- 24%)....

High water on the Rhine in Bonn (2011), shot by Stefan Knauf, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 0 license

Heavy rain caused havoc for parts of Toronto

Global News: A heavy downpour caused flash flooding and transportation problems for many in Toronto on Wednesday evening and into Thursday morning. A band of heavy rain moving south through the city caused between 30 and 40 millimetres of rain. A flood warning issued by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority Wednesday has since been cancelled.

Motorists were told to be prepared for dangerous driving conditions and the risk of hydroplaning - especially in low-lying areas and underpasses – but Toronto Emergency Services still had their hands full. A section of the DVP was closed in both directions between Bloor St. and the Gardiner Expressway due to flooding but was reopened to traffic just before 6 a.m.

There is currently no GO Transit train service from the Old Cummer and Oriole GO stations. Trains will only service the Richmond Hill and Langstaff GO stations. The Toronto Transit Commission had earlier advised customers that trains were bypassing Lawrence subway station due to flooding.

Shuttle buses were brought in to move passengers around the affected station in the north end of the city. Toronto Hydro also reported roughly 3,500 customers in East York were without power for several hours before it was restored just before midnight....

2013 flash flooding in Toronto, shot by mark.watmough, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Adapt or survive? How migration creates climate resilience

Alex Randall in the Ecologist: Migration is an essential component of strategies to adapt to changing climates, writes Alex Randall. Greens should welcome migrants and support their efforts to build climate resilience in their home communities. By closing the door to migrants we are denying vulnerable people a way to adapt to climate change - and choking off a powerful form of climate adaptation funding.

International Refugee Day last weekend marked the end of a week of tragedy. A Roma teenager beaten to within an inch of his life, and a woman stabbed to death in Essex for being a Muslim. The UN Refugee agency announced that Refugee numbers are now the highest they've been since World War II.

The rise of the right in European politics is a signal for the Green movement to stick t
o its current positive stance on immigration. Not swerve to the right in pursuit of support from UKIP. There are good reasons that greens of all shades should support more open borders - and one of these is climate change. Across the world millions of people are using migration as a way of adapting to changing climates. Migration is even creating a powerful form of home-grown adaptation funding.

Water stress, drought and desertification are affecting millions of agricultural livelihoods. As climate change forces people into poverty, migration becomes a way of adapting. This is isn't a distant scenario....

A refugee camp in Chad,  EUFOR in TchadImages by Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces of the Czech Republic

UN panel calls Detroit water disconnection 'violation of international human rights'

Khalili AlHajal in ML Live: A group of three experts who report to the United Nations on Wednesday called the disconnection of water at Detroit homes where residents can't pay their bills a violation of international human rights.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a news release criticizing water cut-offs that started taking place when the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department adopted a more aggressive approach to collecting debt in March.

“Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying," said Catarina de Albuquerque, who is the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

"In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections."

A water department spokesman said this week a $800,000 program to help low-income Detroiters pay their bills will be implemented in July....

Greektown in Detroit, shot by DeltaWeb, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Banjul disaster hot spots tackled ahead of rainy season via the Daily Observer (Banjul): The Banjul City Disaster Committee are putting in efforts to intensify measures to prevent the occurrence of flash floods that continued to cause havoc in the disaster hot spot areas of the capital city.

Speaking in an interview with the Daily Observer, the Banjul City Disaster Management coordinator Hudul EN Colley pointed out that, in preparation for this year's rains, the government is currently rehabilitating the Bund Ponder station. He added that BCC is working closely with the National Roads Authority (NRA) and the National Disaster Management Agency, to install the pumping machine.

According to him, government has engaged the National Roads Authority to fill the portholes in all the disaster hot spot areas, along Tobacco Road.

He went on to reveal that the Banjul City Council has supported in the excavation of the drainage outlets, in order to allow water to flow into the ring canal; and also in the demolition of the dilapidated buildings in the city....

A view of Banjul, shot by Atamari, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Liberians flee caterpillar invasion

Jennifer Lazuta in Voice of America News: Thousands of people have fled their homes in northern Liberia following an invasion of caterpillars - which have overtaken houses and schools, destroyed crops and contaminated water sources. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says these attacks are becoming more frequent in Liberia and the government needs to put in place an early warning system to stop the invasions from reaching such catastrophic levels.

Residents of at least 25 villages and towns in the forested areas of Lofa and Gbarpolu counties have been fleeing en masse since early June to escape the trail of excrement that the caterpillars leave behind. “We are afraid. You see here, the caterpillars are all over and there is nowhere to sleep. I am leaving with my children to a different community," explained Mary Tolbert who lives in Gbarpolu County.

Jeremiah Toe, a nurse in one of the affected villages, says the caterpillars pose a serious public health problem. “The situation is alarming. We have informed the Ministry of Health," he said. "As you can see, the caterpillars are taking over the homes of residents. They have polluted the creeks…Even our clinic has been attacked by the caterpillars.”

Residents and local authorities say the caterpillars have also taken over classrooms, forcing many schools in the area to shut down. Fresh water sources have become so contaminated with caterpillar feces that they are no longer safe to drink from.  Farmers say some of their crops have been destroyed.

This is not the first time caterpillars have attacked the region.  A 2009 invasion caused the government to declare a state of emergency. Smaller invasions were seen in 2011 and 2012....


US Department of Commerce relaxes resolution restrictions

A press release from Digital Globe: DigitalGlobe, Inc. (NYSE: DGI), the leading global provider of commercial high-resolution earth observation and advanced geospatial solutions, today announced that it received notice from the U.S. Department of Commerce on its application to allow the company to sell its highest-quality and industry-leading commercial satellite imagery.

Effective immediately, DigitalGlobe will be permitted to offer customers the highest resolution imagery available from their current constellation. Additionally, the updated approvals will permit DigitalGlobe to sell imagery to all of its customers at up to 0.25m panchromatic and 1.0m multispectral ground sample distance (GSD) beginning six months after its next satellite WorldView-3 is operational. WorldView-3 is scheduled to launch, August 13 or 14, 2014 from Vandenberg Air Force base.

With the launch of WorldView-3, the DigitalGlobe constellation will set a new technological bar for commercial satellite imagery, offering customers the highest available resolution, revisit rate, capacity, and spectral diversity. The company currently operates a fleet of five high-resolution earth imaging satellites. Two of those satellites -- GeoEye-1 and WorldView-2 -- collect imagery sharper than 0.50m, and all customers will have access to that imagery at the highest native resolution. WorldView-3 will provide even higher resolution at 0.31m, and the GeoEye-2 satellite, which is substantially complete, will capture similarly sharp images when it is launched to replace a satellite currently in service or as an expansion to the constellation once warranted by market demand.

"We are very pleased and appreciative that the U.S. Department of Commerce under the leadership of Secretary Penny Pritzker, with support from the U.S. Departments of Defense and State and the Intelligence Community, has made this forward-leaning change to our nation's policy that will fuel innovation, create new high-tech jobs, and advance the nation's commanding lead in this strategically important industry," said Jeffrey R. Tarr, DigitalGlobe CEO. "Our customers will immediately realize the benefits of this updated regulation, as for the first time, we will be able to make our very best imagery available to the commercial market. As a result of this policy update and the forthcoming addition of WorldView-3 to our constellation, DigitalGlobe will further differentiate itself from foreign competition and expand our addressable market."

Additionally, DigitalGlobe announced today that it plans to shift the WorldView-1 satellite into a different orbit, in which it will image the earth in the afternoon local time each day. This shift will optimize the DigitalGlobe constellation to monitor changes on the earth at various times during the day. Customers will be able to image a particular area with multiple satellites in the morning and again with WorldView-1 in the afternoon thus providing consistent views of Earth over much of the day....

A NASA image of the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kenya needs to mitigate against the causes of desertification

AllAfrica. com via the Star (Kenya): There are plans to expand land under rice irrigation in Kirinyaga County as consumption of the product continues to rise in Kenya with the current consumption rate at 300,000 tonnes annually.

Njenga Mwaura, National Irrigation Board in Mwea said the area earns Sh 3 billion per year from rice production, and small-scale farmers who largely depend on the crop stand to benefit. " There are plans to expand 800 acres of land in Kiangungu and Kiamanyeki areas and 25 hectares in Mutithi area," said Mwaura.

...National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director general, prof Geoffrey Wahungu said climate variability and extremes are a major threat to sustainable development of the county, with rising temperatures contributing to increase of malaria, erratic rainfall resulting to drying up of some rivers and also flooding especially on the lower parts of Mwea.

Wahungu added that the major contributors to the degradation of the environment in the county are deforestation, poor solid waste disposal, cultivation along river banks by the community, and pollution from industries and farmers....

Tracks in the Chalbi Desert in northern Kenya, shot by Filiberto Strazzari, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Fighting hits water supply in east Ukraine city

Space Daily via AFP: Up to one million people face water shortages in eastern Ukraine as workers battle to repair pipes damaged by fighting in rebel-held Donetsk, a city spokesman said on Thursday. "Today the water supply is limited and a full supply is being provided only at certain times," Maxim Rovinsky, spokesman for Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, told AFP.

The city is the largest rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine and the epicentre of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Rovinsky said water would reach residents in five-hour stretches every morning and evening, in restrictions that went into force on Tuesday.

The region is suffering from severe water shortages after weeks of fierce fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops damaged vital infrastructure.

There has been no water supply to the battle-ravaged northern city of Slavyansk -- which has a population of 120,000 -- since the start of the month. Many other towns have had their supply restricted. "As of today the water supply to Donetsk is down 20 percent," Rovinsky said....

The Kalmius River in Donetsk, Ukraine, shot by AndrijKo.ukr, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Ecosystem services: if they are so important, why did no one notice them before?

Claire Wansbury and Veronica Lawrie, from consultancy firm Atkins, in Blue & Green Tomorrow: Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from the natural environment. There is growing recognition by policymakers and businesses that natural capital, which provides these ecosystem services, is the ‘missing link’ in classical economics. For many ecosystem services, the value that they provide and the costs that result from damage to natural capital from which they derive are not captured in economic analysis.

You may wonder why we did not notice ecosystem services before. In reality, while the term is new, the importance of these ecosystem services and the need to protect the natural capital that supports them has been recognised for far longer by forward-looking businesses and thought leaders.

...Thought leaders recognised the issues, although they used different terms. American ecologist Aldo Leopold called out for a ‘land ethic’, saying, “If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

...What has changed in the last few years? Suddenly, powerful voices in economics, the environment and business leaders have begun to point out that the economy is not something for which the natural environment must, sadly, be sacrificed, but is really the basis on which most economic development actually depends.

The international Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study was launched in 2007 and the UK Treasury’s natural capital committee is now at the forefront of bringing natural capital into national accounting. What Leopold called a ‘land ethic’ in the 1930s is now becoming recognised as good business, and critical to economic development....

Alfred Bierstadt's 1873 "Campfire Site"

UN lauds Philippines for disaster risk reduction initiatives

Jerry Esplanada in Emergency Management via McClatchy News: The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in Asia that have made "striking paradigm shifts" in disaster risk reduction and management, according to the head of the Geneva-based United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Margareta Wahlstrom, also UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative on disaster risk reduction, on Saturday reported that Manila is "developing more sophisticated methods of gauging the impact of typhoons following 'Haiyan,'" also called Supertyphoon "Yolanda," which devastated Eastern Visayas in November.

"Even though Cyclone Haiyan claimed over 6,200 lives when it struck the Philippines, many more were spared because of early warnings and evacuations, particularly in the province of Cebu," she said in a statement issued the day before the opening of the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Bangkok.

Like the Philippines, Bangladesh "has one of the best cyclone preparedness programs today, having lost hundreds of thousands of lives in the past," Wahlstrom pointed out. Indonesia, for its part, "has made disaster risk reduction a pillar of its national development policy," she said.

"A similar revolution needs to take place in managing disaster risks across public and private sectors in the region in order to stop the hemorrhaging of assets and wealth caused by disasters," she emphasized. According to the UNISDR chief, "there are encouraging signs that the business community across Asia is alert to the issue."...

Typhoon damage post-Haiyan, US State Department photo

Amazon water comprehensively mapped from space

Science Daily via the Intitut de recherche pour le Developpement (IRD): A research team has refined a highly original method for studying ground water based on altitude measurements taken by satellite. This technique was originally only intended for the study of oceans, and has been used for only a few years to observe continental surface water bodies. After years of work to calibrate and validate the data in the Amazon basin, the researchers measured the altitude and variations in levels of more than 500 rivers, lakes, and flood zones.

Through this observation network, the densest every deployed on this scale, the researchers were able to create the first maps of Amazon groundwater. In the dry season, surface water reservoirs are at the same level as the aquifer that feeds them: altitude measurements of the surface water then made possible direct observations of the height of the groundwater. The researchers then mapped the groundwater ceiling at low water periods, which is to say at its lowest level of the year, from 2003 to 2008. The maps obtained were found to be consistent with direct measurements of water depth carried out in wells.

These first maps offer a way to monitor changes in the groundwater over these five years. Following the drought in 2005, the researchers observed the abrupt drop in its low water level in most of the zone under study. Then, this level gradually rose from the north to the south, to only return to its average value between 2007 and 2008. This result suggests an important "memory effect" in the groundwater. This could in turn have a strong impact on the climate. Because of this, if an abnormally low water level persists, this could contribute to reducing evapotranspiration, limit the moisture level in the atmosphere, and reduce rainfall in time.

The maps obtained are a source of essential and unprecedented information on the spatial and temporal structure of the Amazon groundwater and a major advance for hydrology. They help better understand the large-scale underground hydrological processes involved in the water cycle, carbon cycle, and maintenance of biodiversity in the Amazon. In fact, until now, groundwater was a major unknown in these reports....

Rio Negro in Amazonia, created by IRD/J. Pfeffer, after Hess et al. 2003

Monday, June 23, 2014

US mayors to use nature to fight climate change

St. Louis Post-Dispatch via the AP: Mayors from the GOP-dominated states of Texas and Arizona are calling on cities to use nature to fight the impacts of climate change, even while Republican governors and lawmakers repeatedly question the science that shows human-caused pollution contributes to global warming.

As conservative governors criticize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the mayors — many from cities already struggling with climate-change effects — are taking steps and spending money to stem the damage.

Attendees of the U.S. Conference of Mayors will vote today on a resolution that encourages cities to use natural solutions to “protect freshwater supplies, defend the nation’s coastlines, maintain a healthy tree cover and protect air quality,” sometimes by partnering with nonprofit organizations. It’s being backed by Austin, Texas, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton — all Democrats.

Since the conference is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and the resolution only “encourages” steps rather than mandating action, Leffingwell believes it will easily be approved today since it quickly passed through the committee on Friday.

“The best strategy is not to get involved in partisan politics,” said Leffingwell, who noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, may be a climate-change skeptic, but he still supported the state’s move to invest $2 billion in water infrastructure after a debilitating drought in 2011.

“He doesn’t have to acknowledge climate change to know that the facts are there. ... We want to take the steps that would advance the things that we all believe in without getting into some ideological argument,” Leffingwell added....

An aerial view of Austin, Texas, shot by Sahmeditor, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons license 3.0

Ebola outbreak 'tip of the iceberg,' experts say

Maggie Fox at NBC News: An "out of control" outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that’s being called the deadliest ever is far from over and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, experts predict. And health workers who have been fighting the outbreak, which spans three countries and has killed more than 300 people, say they are certain many cases are going unreported as they see gruesome infections, dangerous myths and people fleeing the virus, potentially spreading it further.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Robert Garry, a microbiology professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine who’s been leading relief and investigation efforts in Sierra Leone for the Viral Hemorraghic Fever Consortium.

Dr. Mwayabo Kazadi, from the health unit for Catholic Relief Services, agreed that many cases could go uncounted and undiagnosed in the region, where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia come together. “When you don’t have a proper health system in place, it is pretty difficult,” Kazadi said.

Garry says team members arrived in at least one village to find it deserted, and the body of an Ebola victim left unattended in a house. It’s not hard to imagine what happened, but it makes it impossible to track down people who might have been infected and get them to hospitals for what care can be provided, and to prevent them from infecting others.

A Doctors Without Borders official said Friday that the outbreak was out of control. And the numbers make it clear this is the biggest outbreak yet of Ebola since the virus was first identified in 1976. The virus, which causes a particularly nasty form of hemorrhagic fever, has killed 337 people out of 528 infected....

Winds of change for the shipping sector

A press release from the University of Manchester: Wind propulsion such as kites and Flettner rotors could offer a viable route to help cut CO2 emissions in the shipping sector, according to Dr Michael Traut, a Research Associate from The University of Manchester.

Speaking at the ‘Shipping in Changing Climates: provisioning the future’ Conference in Liverpool today (Thursday), Dr Traut will present research that uses a new model to couple wind-power technologies with weather data to show how in theory, and with supporting incentives, wind energy could cut CO2 and fuel use by as much as 50% on smaller cargo vessels up to 5,000 dead weight tonnes. This would also have a knock-on impact of cutting sulphur and nitrogen oxide and dioxide emissions by reducing the total amount of fuel burnt.

The study, to be presented in a session entitled ‘Future Shipping Propulsion’, will be discussed alongside presentations from more than 30 other speakers from across academia and the shipping industry. All the speakers will be exploring new issues and opportunities on the horizon for the industry in meeting the challenges faced by climate change.

The conference, sponsored by Lloyd’s Register and Shell, is integral to an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) and industry-funded consortium project, and will bring together an audience made up of industrialists, policymakers and academics to debate how climate change may impact on the shipping sector worldwide.

The Shipping in Changing Climates project combines expertise from two substantial existing shipping research projects with two additional research partners. Project lead Professor Paul Wrobel, from UCL, said: “Our vision is to create an enduring, multi-disciplinary and independent research community strongly linked to industry and capable of informing the policy making process by developing new knowledge and understanding of the shipping system, its energy efficiency and emissions, and its transition to a low carbon, more resilient future.”...

Flettner rotors powering a German vessel, RoLo cargo ship E-Ship 1. Shot by kaʁstn Disk/Cat, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license

Mobile data helps Tanzanian herders get ahead of markets, weather

Kizito Makoye in the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Tanzania has devised a new system to help pastoralists and cattle traders track real-time market information on livestock, while keeping them abreast of weather conditions likely to affect their animals’ wellbeing.

The system allows livestock dealers to monitor prices and volumes in markets across the country, while being alerted to the onset of drought and diseases that could affect herds. The Livestock Information Knowledge System (LINKS) is an online platform that uses global positioning system (GPS) technology, text messaging and web-based computer analysis, providing information to pastoralists via mobile phones or the internet.

 “We decided to establish this system because we value the contribution of pastoralists to our economy. However, more education is needed to enable them to make better use of (it),” said
Saning’o Ole Telele, Tanzania’s deputy minister for livestock development and fisheries.

The project was launched in 2013, and so far 53 out of 369 cattle markets have been connected to the system, with a target of covering them all. Changes in trade patterns and market trends allow LINKS to identify and provide early warning of critical food shortages for animals, deteriorating grazing conditions and disease outbreaks.

The system - which is funded and run by the Tanzanian government in partnership with the United States Development Agency, USAID - monitors major domestic livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses....

A Tanzanian pastoralist leading livestock into the Ngorongoro Caldera for grazing, shot by Harvey Barrison, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

China to publish Arctic shipping route guide

Space Daily via AFP: China will soon publish a guide to navigating the Northeast Passage, a recently opened shortcut to Europe through the Arctic, state media reported Friday in a further sign of the country's polar ambitions.

The guide covers the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane that Russian legislation defines as running from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean along the Russian Arctic coast, the China Daily newspaper said. China's guide, to be released in July, is its first to the route and follows one issued by Russia, the report said.

The book will provide "comprehensive, practical and authoritative" information for Chinese cargo ships sailing the route to Europe, Zhai Jiugang, deputy head of the Ministry of Transport's Maritime Safety Administration, told reporters on Thursday, the report said....

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Air pollution linked to cognitive decline in later years

Shereen Lehman in Reuters Health: The tiny particles in vehicle exhaust and other sources of air pollution may hasten cognitive decline in older adults, according to a new U. S. study. “We decided to examine the link between air pollution and cognitive function in older adults because there is growing evidence that fine particulate matter air pollution affects brain health and development, but relatively little attention has been given to what this means for the aging brain,” said Jennifer Ailshire, who co-wrote the report.

 Ailshire is with the Center for Biodemography and Population Health and the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She, along with Philippa Clarke of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, say that based on their results, improvements in air quality may be an important strategy for reducing age-related cognitive decline.

...Routine measurement of air pollution by census tract did not start until the late 1990s, they explain. Cognitive function was measured by math and memory tests and participants got a score based on the number of cognitive errors they made.

...Poverty and other social factors as well as health problems can influence cognitive function, the authors note. And poorer neighborhoods tend to be more polluted. But after the researchers adjusted for education, employment, gender, marital status and several other factors, the differences in cognitive error rates remained.

“The emerging evidence showing a link between air pollution and cognitive function suggests air pollution may harm the brain as well as the heart and lungs,” Ailshire said in an email. “Ideally,” she and Clarke wrote, they would want long-term data and more exact individual pollution exposures to assess the importance of PM2.5 in cognitive function....

Smog over the Louisville, Kentucky, skyline in 1972. From the National Archives