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Environment Headlines - 8 September, 2005

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Water Crisis Looms as Himalayan Glaciers Melt

Sugita Katyal, Reuters
NEW DELHI — Imagine a world without drinking water.

It's a scary thought, but scientists say the 40 percent of humanity living in South Asia and China could well be living with little drinking water within 50 years as global warming melts Himalayan glaciers, the region's main water source.

The glaciers supply 303.6 million cubic feet every year to Asian rivers, including the Yangtze and Yellow rivers in China, the Ganga in India, the Indus in Pakistan, the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh and Burma's Irrawaddy.

But as global warming increases, the glaciers have been rapidly retreating, with average temperatures in the Himalayas up 1 degree Celsius since the 1970s.

A World Wide Fund report published in March said a quarter of the world's glaciers could disappear by 2050 and half by 2100.

"If the current scenario continues, there will be very little water left in the Ganga and its tributaries," Prakash Rao, climate change and energy program coordinator with the fund in India told Reuters.

"The situation here is more critical because here they depend on glaciers for drinking water while in other areas there are other sources of drinking water, not just glacial.
(7 September 2005)


Earthy bacteria faced with climate rap
Carbon loss from soil may speed global warming

Jennifer Wild, Nature
Soils are packed with carbon that can escape into the atmosphere.
Soil in Britain has lost an alarming amount of carbon over the past 25 years: more than enough to cancel out the country's reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

The UK researchers who measured the loss claim its ultimate cause is climate change, which could be increasing the metabolism of soil bacteria so that they spit more carbon into the air. If true, this could feed more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, causing more warming.

But others say the carbon change is due to changes in land use and precipitation patterns, which may not be linked to climate change.
(7 September 2005)


Washing Away the Conservative Movement

William Rivers Pitt, Truthout
Somewhere, at this moment, a neoconservative is seething.

It isn't fair, he rages within. We had it wired. The House is ours, the Senate is ours, the Supreme Court is ours, the Justice Department is ours, the television news media is bought and paid for. We could act with impunity, say whatever we needed to say to get what we want, do whatever wanted, and no one could touch us. We could refashion the nation as we saw fit, whether people wanted to come along with us or not, because we know better.

We followed Leo Strauss's edicts to the letter, growls the seething neoconservative. Strauss, our neoconservative godfather, told us that this nation is best run by an elite that does not have to bother with the will or desires of the populace. Strauss told us we didn't even have to bother with the truth while pursuing our agenda. We are the elite, and we know best.

Somewhere, at this moment, a neoconservative is seething because his entire belief structure regarding government has been laid waste by a storm of singular ferocity. Hurricane Katrina has destroyed lives, ravaged a city, damaged our all-important petroleum infrastructure, and left every American with scenes of chaos and horror seared forever into their minds. Simultaneously, Hurricane Katrina has annihilated the fundamental underpinnings of conservative governmental philosophy.

What we are seeing in New Orleans is the end result of what can be best described as extended Reaganomics. Small government, budget cuts across the board, tax cuts meant to financially strangle the ability of federal agencies to function, the diversion of billions of what is left in the budget into military spending: This has been the aim and desire of the conservative movement for decades now, and they have been largely successful in their efforts.

...Remember that a massive, highly industrialized and infrastructured, diverse nation requires an effective central government, funded properly and staffed by professionals and patriots, in order to keep the wheels on the road. Remember the words of that great Republican, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, "Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society."

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.
(6 September 2005)


White House feels heat on warming after storm

Elisabeth Rosenthal, International Herald Tribune
As politicians and commentators around the world took in pictures of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, many seized the opportunity to blame the fierce storm, at least in part, on the Bush administration's environmental policy. ...

While it is impossible to link Katrina specifically to warming, scientists said, most now concur that global warming does tend to increase the intensity of hurricanes, if not their frequency.

"There is new research that shows there may well be an increase in the destructive power of hurricanes because of global warming," said Wayne Elliott, a meteorologist with the British weather service.

But the experts add that it was scientifically unfair to blame any one hurricane on the warming trend.

"We would expect hurricanes on average should be getting more intense because of global warming," said Jay Gulledge, senior research fellow at the Pew Institute for Climate Change, "but it's hard to make the connection in any one event, like Katrina." ...

The strength of a hurricane is connected to sea surface temperature, which is slowly rising with global temperatures. In the last century, global temperatures have risen more than 0.7 degree Celsius (1.26 degree Fahrenheit) and sea temperatures about 0.6 degree Celsius (1.08 degree Fahrenheit), and the pace of change is accelerating, according to the European Environment Agency.
(4 September, 2005)


Sucker's Bets for the New Century:
The U.S. after Katrina

Bill McKibben, TomDispatch.com
...A decade ago, environmental researcher Norman Myers began trying to add up the number of humans at risk of losing their homes from global warming. He looked at all the obvious places -- coastal China, India, Bangladesh, the tiny island states of the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Nile delta, Mozambique, on and on -- and predicted that by 2050 it was entirely possible that 150 million people could be "environmental refugees," forced from their homes by rising waters. That's more than the number of political refugees sent scurrying by the bloody century we've just endured.

Try to imagine, that is, the chaos that attends busing 15,000 people from one football stadium to another in the richest nation on Earth, and then multiply it by four orders of magnitude and re-situate your thoughts in the poorest nations on earth.

And then try to imagine doing it over and over again -- probably without the buses.

Because so far, even as blogs and websites all over the Internet fill with accusations about the scandalous lack of planning that led to the collapse of the levees in New Orleans, almost no one is addressing the much larger problems: the scandalous lack of planning that has kept us from even beginning to address climate change, and the sad fact that global warming means the future will be full of just this kind of horror.

...Our rulers have insisted by both word and deed that the laws of physics and chemistry do not apply to us. That delusion will now start to vanish. Katrina marks Year One of our new calendar, the start of an age in which the physical world has flipped from sure and secure to volatile and unhinged. New Orleans doesn't look like the America we've lived in. But it very much resembles the planet we will inhabit the rest of our lives.

Bill McKibben is the author of many books on the environment and related topics. His first, The End of Nature, was also the first book for a general audience on global warming. His most recent is Wandering Home, A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape.
(7 September 2005)


Snake eyes (peak oil and global warming)

monkeygrinde, Peak Energy (Seattle)
Linking up global warming with peak energy / oil has been one of a primary themes on this blog. Hurricane Katrina has brought this siamese twin meme in into high relief.

Global warming, caused by burning an excess of carbon fuels too quickly, has warmed oceans and energized hurricanes, raising the odds that one would barrel through the Gulf region, devastating oil and gas production, as has just happened. Jackpot. All the bells rung, and doubloons piled up on the floor.

Now, re-revealed occult wisdom for Americans who have had so much for so long: Go 5 days without water, and you might die. Hopeless treks to a tossed Wal-Mart won’t save anyone -– that’s where one goes to harvest the bounty of the developing world, but what if the world stops developing?

This has some pertinence to certain peak oil scenarios – and I note that the Oil Drum has a serious discussion of this topic.

It is a discussion that needs to happen. The stakes are high, and happy-geeks who claimed that die-offs were theoretical and genocidal have just had their noses rubbed in reality.
(6 September 2005)
Monkeygrinder has a follow-up post today .


The Cyclone Ranger
A hurricane expert explains the climate-change connection

Robert L. Korty, Grist
As the world watched New Orleans' devastating descent into squalor last week, questions about connections between global warming and hurricanes reemerged. A few politicians and activists leapt to offer their views, most of which were unmeritorious. So what does the science say?

...All else being equal (a limiting assumption), for every 1 degree C (2 degrees F) increase in sea surface temperature, there is a 5 percent increase in the maximum surface wind speed achievable by a thermodynamically efficient storm. A recent paper by Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT, found that the total power dissipated by tropical cyclones (an integrated measure of storm intensity and lifetime) has risen in concert with the average tropical sea surface temperature over the past 30 years.

The power dissipation has risen as average storm wind speeds have increased modestly, but the bulk of this rise has come from an increase in storm lifetimes (this issue has received scant attention, and it merits further investigation). During years in which the tropical sea surface temperatures dropped, the power dissipation dropped too; during warmer years, the power rose accordingly. Thus, theory and observations support a modest increase in storm intensity with warming tropical sea surface temperatures, whatever the cause. Tropical sea surface temperatures warmed about 0.5 degrees C (1 degree F) during the 20th century.

But does all of this even matter? These changes are dwarfed by many more immediate, largely demographic factors, which leave us susceptible to increasing damage. We have been witnessing a huge increase in insured losses in the United States, and most or all of this is due to the rapid rise in population and property development along the coast from Texas to Maine, in regions prone to hurricanes. A return to a more active period in the Atlantic means losses are certain to increase further in the years to come. Other human-instigated changes have consequences too, and Katrina illuminated several obvious examples that had a devastating impact. Draining bayous (which causes the silt left behind to compact), eliminating sand dunes, or deforesting mountains (which leaves towns at the base vulnerable to mud slides) leave coastal populations devoid of natural protections. All this remains true regardless of how much the planet warms. We remain unprepared for these storms and their aftermath at our peril.

Robert Korty is a postdoctoral scientist at the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in climate physics and chemistry from MIT, and researches hurricane-ocean interactions.
(7 September 2005)

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