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Environment Headlines - 12 August, 2005

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Environment

Warming hits 'tipping point'
Siberia feels the heat

Ian Sample. The Guardian
It's a frozen peat bog the size of France and Germany combined, contains billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas and, for the first time since the ice age, it is melting
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A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.
(11 August 2005)
The article has a sidebar: Thaw will speed warming.


Stop gassing on climate change and take action

Nigel Griffiths, Scotsman
CLIMATE change, everyone's talking about it. Parliament was determined to ensure it was the top priority at the recent G8 summit and, due to compelling scientific evidence, climate change has risen fast up the political agenda.

It is the single biggest environmental threat facing the planet. Climate change, or global warming, is caused by increased levels of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, which trap heat by forming a blanket around the Earth - like the glass of a greenhouse. Once released the greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for many years and as they build up, the planet's temperature rises. Because of that "delay factor" the decisions we take today will affect the future of our planet.

There's a common misconception that climate change is simply an environmental issue, but it is a social issue and an issue of justice. We cannot tackle global poverty without tackling global warming.

The impacts of climate change will be phenomenal. Initial effects on our health; agriculture; forestry; water resources; coastal areas and on biodiversity will produce far greater social problems.
Nigel Griffiths is Labour MP for South Edinburgh
(9 August 2005)


Field tested: Grasslands won’t help buffer climate change as carbon dioxide levels rise

Innovations Report
Because grasslands and forests operate in complex feedback loops with both the atmosphere and soil, understanding how ecosystems respond to global changes in climate and element cycling is critical to predicting the range of global environmental changes--and attendant ecosystem responses--likely to occur.

In a new study in the premier open access journal PLoS Biology Jeffrey Dukes, Christopher Field, and colleagues treated grassland plots to every possible combination of current or increased levels of four environmental factors--CO2, temperature, precipitation, and nitrogen influx--to simulate likely regional changes over the next 100 years.

The results of their long-term experiment reveal that California grasslands, and ecosystems that respond similarly, are not likely to help buffer the rate of climate change by acting as a carbon "sink"--slowing the rise of CO2 levels by storing more carbon in new growth
(9 August 2005)
The original research article is available online.


Muckraker: Pact or fiction?
New Asia-Pacific climate pact is long on PR, short on substance

Umbra, Grist Magazine via Working for Change
Staunch U.S. allies, enviro activists, and just about everyone else was caught flat-footed last week when the U.S., Australia, and four Asian countries unveiled a new pact intended to help curb greenhouse-gas emissions. In the days since, some details about the surprise alliance have trickled out, but its mission and intended impact remain murky.

Known as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, the six-nation agreement was developed via clandestine negotiations orchestrated by the Bush administration over recent months with China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Australia -- nations that together produce nearly 50 percent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. A wholly voluntary, nonbinding agreement, its (vaguely) stated aim is to encourage the development and sharing of more efficient energy technologies.

The announcement prompted many to wonder: Is this new partnership a Pepsi to Kyoto's Coke or more of a ... Caffeine-Free Diet Coke?
(9 August 2005)
The current Ask Umbra column answers the question, How does the US subsidize oil companies.


Water rights 101: Analysis

Jean Johnson, Indian Country Today
PORTLAND, Ore. - ''3 Accused of Shooting Up Oregon Town; Water Dispute Cited,'' ran a New York Times late edition headline in December 2001. The town was Chiloquin, home to the Klamath Tribes. The shooters were young white men from a nearby farming community, incensed that Klamath Basin irrigators weren't getting their accustomed share of the arid region's water during a dry spell.

It's just a single incident, but with pundits saying water will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th, there's no time like the present - whether you live in the parched American West or elsewhere on the planet - to get a handle on the way things work.

Water rights are among the more complex subjects a person can tackle. Still, the basics are, well, basics. And armed with a few fundamentals, folks can assess the news better - not to mention fathom just why it is that tribal councils often spend megabucks on lawyers, historians and advisers trained in the field of water law.

When it comes to their water, people want two things: enough and nice. In the parlance of the enviro-legal world, that means quantity and quality.
(5 August 2005)


Scorched earth

John Vidal, Guardian
With forest fires, failing crops and reservoirs running on empty, southern Europe is in the grip of the worst drought since records began. But why is it happening? Temperatures are blazing but, as John Vidal discovers, other causes are at work too, not least our insatiable appetite for golf, swimming pools and freshly picked salads
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...Much of western Europe and northern Africa will understand Lorenzo's point of view [about drought in Southern Spain]. Thanks to what meteorologists call "unusual" climatic circumstances, including freak rain which ran off the land without replenishing the water tables, much of Europe is now bone-dry, dun-brown and baking. There has been barely any steady rain for a year or more in many places and it's dawning on the EU and the authorities of half a dozen countries that this pan-European phenomenon will affect everyone and could well continue into next year.

...The drought of 2005 is already raising food prices, causing unemployment and will cost billions of euros' compensation and economic losses; but it is also leading to calls for gargantuan water transfer plans, new reservoirs and dams. As cities vie with farmers for a resource that is only going to become scarcer if droughts like this become more common, scientists and politicians are saying that a complete rethink is needed over how Europe uses its water.

"Everyone wants more water. Industry, farming, householders. We all want golf courses, showers, swimming pools, gardens. If it goes on, I don't know what will happen," says Maria Carol, a Portuguese forester working at the University of Lisbon. "The good thing about this drought is that for the first time ever there is a real awareness of water."
(22 July 2005)


The Dangers of Climate Change
(AUDIO)
TUC Radio via Global Public Media
In February 2005, 200 scientists met in Exeter, UK to warn that dangerous climate change is happening now and action must be taken. The meeting was ignored in the US media.

Program One: The Dangers of Climate Change and Global Warming in the Antarctic
Stephen Schneider (Stanford University) Chris Rapley (British Antarctic Survey)
While the earth as a whole has warmed by an average of 7/10 degree C since the industrial age, the Antarctic, Siberia and Alaska have shown much stronger regional warming. The accelerated melting in the Antarctic is of huge importance. The ice sheets hold 90% of the world's fresh water. If all of it melted the global mean sea level would rise by 52 meters. Also: the circumpolar ocean current around the Antarctic is driving the ocean currents of the world, influencing climate up into the Northern Hemisphere.

Program Two: Global Warming on Greenland & Risk of Gulf Stream Collapse
Jay Zwally (NASA) Jason Lowe (Hadley Centre, UK) Michael Schlesinger (U. of Illinois)
Is the melting we are seeing today the precursor of a major deglaciation of Greenland or a momentary anomaly? How fast will this process unfold, and can deglaciation be stopped if it begins accelerating due to internal feedback? Even after CO2 levels are brought under control the oceans will keep expanding - raising the sea levels around the world - the question is for how long? The possible collapse of the Gulf Stream, leading to a dramatic cooling of Europe, was considered a "high impact - low probability" event. Recent data show that there is now a 70% chance of collapse due to global warming.

Program Three: Global Warming Impacts on Oceans and Land & The Bush Wars on Climate Science
Rik Leemans (Wageningen University, Netherlands) Carol Turley (Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK) Myron Ebell (Bush advisor on climate) Senator Inhofe (US) Chris Rapley (British Antarctic Survey)
About half of the man-made carbon dioxide produced by fossil-fuel burning has been absorbed by the oceans. These changes are accelerating the extinction of marine life from plankton to cod to coral reefs. Animals and plants are on the move everywhere. Changes in the oceans are especially fast. Some plankton species have already moved north by up to 1000 kilometers. Science tells us more today about the accelerated collapse of earth systems than ever before - we need to pay attention and ACT! However the Bush administration undermined climate science and prevented an agreement on limits of CO2 emissions at the G8 meeting in Scotland.
(8 August 2005)


We Brake For Efficiency

Rob Sargent and Jeremiah Baumann, TomPaine
In the 1,725 pages of the energy bill enacted by Congress and signed by President Bush, you won’t find acknowledgment of—let alone a plan to address—one of the world’s top energy-related challenges: global warming triggered by fossil fuel consumption.

But while Congress and the president continue to ignore the mounting evidence of a changing climate, state governments are taking action. One of their first targets is global warming pollution from cars and trucks.

The most recent battleground is Oregon, where Gov. Ted Kulongoski has committed to implement California’s upcoming standards on global warming pollution from vehicles. If the standards are implemented, new cars sold in Oregon would emit one-third less global warming pollution in 2016 than they do today and new light trucks would emit one-quarter less. These cleaner vehicles would cost more, but the cost increase would be offset by savings in operating costs, particularly for fuel—saving consumers money overall.
Rob Sargent is the senior energy policy analyst for the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups (State PIRGs). Jeremiah Baumann is the energy advocate for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG).
(10 August 2005)

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