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Environment Headlines - 3 September, 2005

Christians draw swords on climate

Richard Black, BBC
A new UK organisation hopes to combat climate change through harnessing the political power of the church. Stop Climate Chaos brings traditional environmental groups such as Greenpeace together with Christian development agencies like Christian Aid.

It is asking the government to cut Britain's greenhouse gas emissions, and to ensure that overseas aid money is invested in clean technologies. The group plans to expand its reach to include faiths other than Christianity.

"The big difference about Stop Climate Chaos is the united voice," the group's director, Ashok Sinha, told the BBC News website. "It brings together voices from across the development and environmental sectors to ask for definitive action on climate change."
(1 September 2005)

Researchers Find That Carbon Dioxide Does Not Boost Forest Growth

Sarah Graham, Scientific American
Levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, have been on the upswing over the last century. How the earth's plant life, particularly trees, will react to the change remains unclear.

Some researchers have proposed, however, that the rising concentrations will spur plant growth and thus allow them to store additional amounts of carbon dioxide, thereby mitigating the atmospheric increase to some degree. Now a report published in the journal Science disputes this claim. A four-year study of a forest in Switzerland indicates that additional carbon dioxide does not boost tree growth.
(26 August 2005)

With water from below scarce, folks harvest water from above

Jim Kadera, Oregonian
Groundwater is drying up because of insufficient precipitation, making rainwater increasingly worth saving
Harvesting rainwater will be a new concept for many people, but it could gain momentum in parts of Clackamas County as a substitute for new or deeper wells.

The concept has been around for centuries. Simply funnel storm runoff from a roof into a barrel or tank and you have water to irrigate plants. Filter out any pathogens, and you can drink it.
(1 September 2005)

The Climax of Humanity

George Musser, Scientific American
Demographically and economically, our era is unique in human history. Depending on how we manage the next few decades, we could usher in environmental sustainability--or collapse
The 21st century feels like a letdown. We were promised flying cars, space colonies and 15-hour workweeks. Robots were supposed to do our chores, except when they were organizing rebellions; children were supposed to learn about disease from history books; portable fusion reactors were supposed to be on sale at the Home Depot. Even dystopian visions of the future predicted leaps of technology and social organization that leave our era in the dust.

Looking beyond the blinking lights and whirring gizmos, though, the new century is shaping up as one of the most amazing periods in human history. Three great transitions set in motion by the Industrial Revolution are reaching their culmination. After several centuries of faster-than-exponential growth, the world's population is stabilizing. Judging from current trends, it will plateau at around nine billion people toward the middle of this century. Meanwhile extreme poverty is receding both as a percentage of population and in absolute numbers. If China and India continue to follow in the economic footsteps of Japan and South Korea, by 2050 the average Chinese will be as rich as the average Swiss is today; the average Indian, as rich as today's Israeli. As humanity grows in size and wealth, however, it increasingly presses against the limits of the planet. Already we pump out carbon dioxide three times as fast as the oceans and land can absorb it; midcentury is when climatologists think global warming will really begin to bite. At the rate things are going, the world's forests and fisheries will be exhausted even sooner.

These three concurrent, intertwined transitions--demographic, economic, environmental--are what historians of the future will remember when they look back on our age. They are transforming everything from geopolitics to the structure of families. And they pose problems on a scale that humans have little experience with. As Harvard University biologist E. O. Wilson puts it, we are about to pass through "the bottleneck," a period of maximum stress on natural resources and human ingenuity.
(September 2005 issue)
A surprising essay to come from Scientific American. The essay has popped up multiple places in the blogosphere. The September issues of SA is devoted to "Crossroads for Planet Earth."

New Orleans: Loss of wetlands opens floodgates to disaster

David Usborne, The Independent
The worst has happened in New Orleans and not everyone is surprised. For years, specialists have warned that the city, built partly below sea level and in an area of radically depleted wetlands, was a natural disaster waiting to happen. And when it did, they said, we would have no one to blame but ourselves.
(1 September 2005)

Drowning New Orleans

Mark Fischetti, Scientific American
A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city
(October 2001 issue)
A long, prescient article.-BA

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