Monday, April 30, 2007

Climate Report to Warn Time Running Out in Greenhouse Gas

By Marlowe Hood for Agence France Presse

Time is running out to cut the greenhouse-gas emissions that drive climate change, but much can be done at a modest cost to attack the looming crisis, according to experts gathering for new talks.0429 03Fierce debate is expected however at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting which starts in Bangkok on Monday to hammer out a new all important summary for governments.

A draft of the report to be agreed by experts on the United Nation’s main authority on climate change says there is scant time to waste.

“Mitigation efforts over the next two to three decades will determine to a large extent the long-term global mean temperature increase and the corresponding climate change impacts that can be avoided,” says the draft which has been seen by AFP.

Using a smart mix of policies and technologies, the cost of stabilizing carbon pollution at nearly 75 percent above today’s levels would be just 0.2 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.

That price would rise to 0.6 percent of global GDP if the world stabilized carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at a level roughly 50 percent higher than today, they calculate.

The sticking points expected at the debate include emissions caps, taxes on CO2 emissions and references to the Kyoto Protocol — an approach that is anathema to President George W. Bush.

There could also be squabbles over nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels and over carbon storage, a nascent technology for storing greenhouse gases deep underground.

The report to be released on Friday is the last in a massive three-volume update of knowledge on climate change, based on the work of some 2,500 scientists

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Global Warming Called Security Threat

By Andrew C. Revkin / Timothy Williams for the New York Times

WASHINGTON - For the second time in a month, private consultants to the government are warning that human-driven warming of the climate poses risks to the national security of the United States.A report, scheduled to be published on Monday but distributed to some reporters yesterday, said issues usually associated with the environment - like rising ocean levels, droughts and violent weather caused by global warming - were also national security concerns.

“Unlike the problems that we are used to dealing with, these will come upon us extremely slowly, but come they will, and they will be grinding and inexorable,” Richard J. Truly, a retired United States Navy vice admiral and former NASA administrator, said in the report.

The effects of global warming, the study said, could lead to large-scale migrations, increased border tensions, the spread of disease and conflicts over food and water. All could lead to direct involvement by the United States military.

The report recommends that climate change be integrated into the nation’s security strategies and says the United States “should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability.”

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Over 1,000 Climate Rallies Planned This Weekend

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How Trees Might Not Be Green in Carbon Offsetting Debate

by Alok Jha for the Guardian

It may have become the penance of choice for the environmentally conscious individual, but planting trees to offset carbon emissions could contribute to global warming if they are planted outside the tropics, scientists believe.They argue that most forests do not have any overall effect on global temperature but, by the end of the century, forests in the mid and high latitudes could make their parts of the world more than 3C warmer than would have occurred if the trees did not exist. 0410 07

Govindasamy Bala, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the US, has shown that only tropical rainforests are beneficial in helping slow global warming. The problem is that while the carbon dioxide forests use for photosynthesis indirectly helps cool the Earth by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, forests also trap heat from the sunlight they absorb.

Dr Bala and his colleague, Ken Caldeira of the department of global ecology at the Carneige Institute in Standford, used a computer model to show that, outside a thin band around the equator, forests end up trapping more heat than they help to get rid of through a cut in carbon dioxide. Planting trees above 50 degrees latitude - the equivalent of Scandinavia or Siberia in the northern hemisphere - can also cover up tundra normally blanketed in heat-reflecting snow.

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Would $4 Gas Change Your Summer Travel Plans?

Seems like we've found the threshold price for petrol that would affect consumption, but then the dominoes start to fall. Tourism as a form of consumerism is front-line vulnerable. The shift from long-distance to local tourism was predicted in the early seventies, but nobody then had any idea how long it would take before it happened.

From the linked site:

It’s no secret that gas prices are unusually high for this time of year and that they’re going to continue to rise throughout the summer’s peak driving season. How high will they go? While nobody knows for sure, several analysts are predicting that before this summer is over, the national average gas price will top $4 per gallon for the first time in history.

So, what would happen to the summer travel season if these predictions prove to be true and the average gasoline price actually does climb above $4 per gallon? According to a recent poll, it looks like the summer travel season could come to a grinding halt.

When asked “If gas hits $4 per gallon this summer, will it cause you to travel less?” 74% of respondents stated that they would in fact travel less. A total of 17% of respondents stated that they would not travel less, 7% said they were not planning on traveling anyway and 2% said they were unsure how $4 gas would impact their summer travel plans.

Obviously, this isn’t very good news for beach towns and other summer vacation spots, many of whom rely on summer tourists to provide much of the year’s revenue. If gas prices were to force people to “vacation” closer to home, many beach shops and restaurants could be in danger of going out of business.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Stop Shopping … or the Planet Will Go Pop

by David Smith for the Observer

‘Many big ideas have struggled over the centuries to dominate the planet,’ begins the argument by Jonathon Porritt, government adviser and all-round environmental guru.’Fascism. Communism. Democracy. Religion. But only one has achieved total supremacy. Its compulsive attractions rob its followers of reason and good sense. It has created unsustainable inequalities and threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society. More powerful than any cause or even religion, it has reached into every corner of the globe. It is consumerism.’

According to Porritt, the most senior adviser to the government on sustainability, we have become a generation of shopaholics. We are bombarded by advertising from every medium which persuades us that the more we consume, the better our lives will be. Shopping is equated with fun, fulfilment and self-identity. It is also, Porritt warns, killing the planet. He argues, in an interview with The Observer, that merely switching to ‘ethical’ shopping is not enough. We must shop less.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mountaineers testify to warming's effect

by JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer Sat Apr 7, 6:36 PM ET

BEND, Ore. - Mountaineers are bringing back firsthand accounts of vanishing glaciers, melting ice routes, crumbling rock formations and flood-prone lakes where glaciers once rose.

The observations are transforming a growing number of alpine and ice climbers, some of whom have scientific training, into eyewitnesses of global warming. Increasingly, they are deciding not to leave it to scientists to tell the entire story.

"I personally have done a bunch of ice climbs around the world that no longer exist," said Yvon Chouinard, a renowned climber and surfer and founder of Patagonia, Inc., an outdoor clothing and gear company that champions the environment. "I mean, I was aghast at the change."

Chouinard pointed to recent trips where the ice had all but disappeared on the famous Diamond Couloir of 16,897-foot Mount Kenya, and snow was absent at low elevations on 4,409-foot Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak, in the Highlands of northwest Scotland. He sees a role for climbers in debating climate change, even if their chronicles are unscientific.

"Most people don't care whether the ice goes or not, the kind of ice that we climb on and stuff," he said. But climbers' stories, he added, can "make it personal, instead of just scientists talking about it. Telling personal stories might hit home to some people."

Alpine climbers are worrying about the loss of classic routes and potential new lines up mountains that are melting, from the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest and the Alps in Europe to the Andes in South America and the Himalaya in Asia.

Their anecdotes often reflect what science is finding, but with stories and pictures from places where most scientists aren't able to reach.

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Dire Warming Report too Soft, Scientists Say

By Alan Zarembo / Thomas H. Maugh II for the Los Angeles Times

A new global warming report issued Friday by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of Earth’s future: hundreds of millions of people short of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, a landscape ravaged by floods and millions of species sentenced to extinction.Despite its harsh vision, the report was quickly criticized by some scientists who said its findings were watered down at the last minute by governments seeking to deflect calls for action.

“The science got hijacked by the political bureaucrats at the late stage of the game,” said John Walsh, a climate expert at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who helped write a chapter on the polar regions.

Even in its softened form, the report outlined devastating effects that will strike all regions of the world and all levels of society. Those without resources to adapt to the changes will suffer the most, according to the study from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“It’s the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, which released the report in Brussels.

The report is the second of four scheduled to be issued this year by the U.N., which marshaled more than 2,500 scientists to give their best predictions of the consequences of a few degrees increase in temperature. The first report, released in February, said global warming was irreversible but could be moderated by large-scale societal changes.

That report said with 90% confidence that the warming was caused by humans, and its conclusions were widely accepted because of the years of accumulated scientific data supporting them.

In contrast, the latest report was more controversial because it tackled the more uncertain issues of the precise effects of warming and the ability of humans to adapt to them.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Palm Oil: The Biofuel of the Future Driving an Ecological Disaster Now

by Ian MacKinnon from the Guardian

KALIMANTAN, Indonesia - The numbers are damning. Within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, little more than a footnote in history. With them will disappear some of the world’s most important wildlife species, victims of the rapacious destruction of their habitat in what conservationists see as a lost cause. 0404 07Yet this gloomy script was supposed to have included a small but significant glimmer of hope. Oil palm for biofuel was to have been one of the best solutions in saving the planet from greenhouse gases and global warming. Instead the forests are being torn down in the headlong rush to boost palm oil production.

More startling is that conservationists believe the move to clear land for this “green fuel” is often little more than a conspiracy, providing cover to strip out the last stands of timber not already lost to illegal loggers. In one corner of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, a mere 250,000 hectares or 1,000 sq miles - almost twice the size of Greater London - of the 6m hectares of forest allocated for palm oil by the government have actually been planted.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Global warming driving Australian fish south

By Michael Byrnes for Reuters

Global warming is starting to have a significant impact on Australian marine life, driving fish and seabirds south and threatening coral reefs, Australia's premier science organization said on Wednesday.

But much more severe impacts could occur in coming decades, affecting sea life, fishing communities and tourism.

In particular, warmer oceans, changes in currents, disruption of reproductive cycles and mass migration of species would affect Australia's marine life, particularly in the southeast.

Already, nesting sea turtles, yellow-fin tuna, dugongs and stinging jellyfish are examples of marine life moving south as seas warm, said the report by the government-backed Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

"It's not a disaster for the ones that can move south. It is for the ones that can't move south," lead author of the report, Dr Alistair Hobday, told Reuters.

"If you're at the tip of Tasmania, you've got nowhere else to go," he said, referring to Australia's southern island state, the last major part of Australia before the Antarctic.

Atlantic salmon, which are farmed in Tasmania, face a bleak future. Salmon farming businesses would become largely unviable as the ocean warmed the predicted one to two degrees over the next 30 years, Hobday said.

Fisheries and aquaculture are worth more than A$2.5 billion a year the report, "Impacts of Climate Change on Australian Marine Life," says. It is the first major study in the Australian region to combine the research of climate modelers, ecologists and fisheries and aquaculture scientists.

Coral in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's northeast may be hit by more frequent bleaching events, every two or three years compared with five or six years at present.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Climate Science and The Politics of Economic Growth

by John Buell in the Bangor Daily News


The politics of global warming is a telling and consequential instance of economic power corrupting political judgment.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which adds further support for the relationship of greenhouse gases to global climate change, has provoked an odd reaction among many business leaders. Even some who have long denied any connection between hydrocarbons and global warming now concede the link, but they take a new tack. They claim that any serious attempt to slow the pace of global warming will do serious damage to the national economy. They can reach this conclusion because they equate their short-term bottom line with “the economy,” and surprisingly many in the media follow them in this judgment.

Oil industry defenders portray leading climate scientists as hell bent to place draconian curbs on the U.S. economy. Yet prominent climate scientists are, if anything, too restrained in their pronouncements. Even the most conservative introductory economics texts, like that by former chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers Gregory Mankiw, recognize that markets have imperfections. When the purchase and use of a commodity harms third parties, government has an appropriate role in taxing and thus discouraging consumption of that commodity. In the world of economic textbooks, a neutral and informed government calculates the extent of the damage and enacts an appropriate tax.

Yet in our contemporary corporate economy, oil, auto, and private utility interests have enormous market power, which they eagerly translate into political power. They already enjoy vast favors in the forms of subsidized leases, government supported highways and emergency services, and lower tax rates. A tax on gas that reflected not only carbon content but much of our military cost as well as air pollution, congestion, and highway accidents would substantially impact several key corporations. Nonetheless, is their welfare synonymous with “the economy?”

Tax and regulatory policy in the late eighties and nineties led to major gains in energy efficiency and if anything were very beneficial to overall economic development. James Hansen, one of the mad scientists most reviled by leading oil companies, has put this case in language that reads as though it came straight out of market economics 101: “The U.S. is still only half as efficient in its use of energy as Western Europe, i.e., the U.S. emits twice as much CO2 to produce a unit of GNP, partly because Europe encourages efficiency by fossil fuel taxes. Available technologies would allow great improvement of energy efficiency, even in Europe. Economists agree that the potential could be achieved most effectively by a tax on carbon emissions… The tax could be revenue-neutral … leaving government revenue unchanged; and it should be introduced gradually. The consumer who makes a special effort to save energy could gain, benefiting from the tax credit or decrease while buying less fuel; the well-to-do consumer who insisted on having three Hummers would pay for his own excesses.”

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Supreme Court Rules Against Bush in Global Warming Case

by James Vicini for Reuters

WASHINGTON - In a defeat for the Bush administration, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a U.S. government agency has the power under the clean air law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. The nation’s highest court by a 5-4 vote said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “has offered no reasoned explanation” for its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change.

The ruling came in one of the most important environmental cases to reach the Supreme Court in decades. It marked the first high court decision in a case involving global warming.

Greenhouse gases occur naturally and are also emitted by cars, trucks and factories into the atmosphere. They can trap heat close to the earth’s surface like the glass walls of a greenhouse.

Such emissions have risen steeply over the past century and many scientists see a connection between this rise and an increase in global average temperatures and a related increase in extreme weather, wildfires, melting glaciers and other damage to the environment.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court majority, rejected the administration’s argument that it lacked the power to regulate such emissions. He said the EPA’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

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