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Environment Headlines - 24 September, 2005

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This is global warming, says UK environmental chief

Michael McCarthy, The Independent via Common Dreams
As Hurricane Rita threatens devastation, scientist blames climate change
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Super-powerful hurricanes now hitting the United States are the "smoking gun" of global warming, one of Britain's leading scientists believes.

The growing violence of storms such as Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans, and Rita, now threatening Texas, is very probably caused by climate change, said Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea, he said. "The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming."

In a series of outspoken comments - a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration, Sir John hit out at neoconservatives in the US who still deny the reality of climate change.

Referring to the arrival of Hurricane Rita he said: "If this makes the climate loonies in the States realise we've got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation." As he spoke, more than a million people were fleeing north away from the coast of Texas as Rita, one of the most intense storms on record, roared through the Gulf of Mexico. It will probably make landfall tonight or early tomorrow near Houston, America's fourth largest city and the centre of its oil industry. Highways leading inland from Houston were clogged with traffic for up to 100 miles north.

There are real fears that Houston could suffer as badly from Rita just as New Orleans suffered from Hurricane Katrina less than a month ago.

Asked what conclusion the Bush administration should draw from two hurricanes of such high intensity hitting the US in quick succession, Sir John said: "If what looks like is going to be a horrible mess causes the extreme sceptics about climate change in the US to reconsider their opinion, that would be an extremely valuable outcome."
(23 September 2005)


End of 'Normal' Hurricanes Means Preparing for Global Warming

Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger, SF Chronicle via Common Dreams
In his national address about rebuilding New Orleans, President Bush explained the government's inadequate response by stressing the severity of Hurricane Katrina. "It was not a normal hurricane -- and the normal disaster relief system was not equal to it." The "unexpected" intensity of Hurricane Katrina was a central talking point for the Bush administration as the inadequacy of its response became clear in the days after Katrina struck. But now, with Category 4 Hurricane Rita bearing down on the Texas coast, it's clear that the era of "normal" hurricanes is over.

Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology presented research recently that showed a steady increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes between 1970 and 2005. While environmentalists and their conservative opponents argue about whether global warming is the result of human activities or natural cycles, scientists have documented that temperatures have risen steadily and that the average temperature of the world's oceans increased by 1 degree Fahrenheit.

While one might argue that nobody expected terrorists to fly commercial jetliners into skyscrapers in a major American city until the Sept. 11 attacks, scientists have been predicting more intense and devastating hurricanes for decades -- predictions that the conservative ideologues who run the Bush administration have pointedly ignored. They have spent the last 15 years: a) denying that global warming was happening; b) arguing that even if it was happening, we couldn't prove that it was being caused by human activity; and c) arguing that if it was real and was caused by human activity, adaptation (e.g., improving levees) is more cost-effective than prevention (e.g., reducing global-warming emissions).
(23 September 2005)


Climate Science 101

Bruce Stut, OnEarth (Natinal Resources Defense Council)
lobal warming is a reality. The year 2004 was the fourth-hottest on record; NASA predicts that 2005 will be even worse. But how rapidly is the climate changing? And what does the future look like? To answer those questions, scientists need information about long periods of time over widely spread geographic regions. They use a range of tools to gather the data they need. Here are six:
(23 September 2005)


Ill winds that whisper the collapse of civilisation

Deborah Smith
Mankind is at the edge of an abyss, its very survival dependent on urgent action, warns Tim Flannery.

The hurricanes devastating the American coast are the wake-up call the world needs. Do nothing about climate change, and the collapse of civilisation is "inevitable", according to Dr Tim Flannery.

Do too little, the Australian scientist says, and society will "hover on the brink for decades or centuries". Action needs to be taken now to slow global warming, says Flannery, the director of the South Australian Museum. "The delay of even a decade is far too much," he says.

Ferocious storms, melting glaciers, prolonged droughts, bleached coral reefs and disappearing species have convinced other leading scientists - including the Nobel laureate Professor Peter Doherty and Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society, the world's oldest scientific academy - to call for immediate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Lord May, a pioneer of chaos theory, warns against delay in a dynamic system like global climate. "Small actions now … are more important than big actions later," he told the Herald on a recent trip to Australia.

Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, said yesterday the increased intensity of storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita was probably a result of rising sea temperatures. He hoped the destruction would make climate-change sceptics reconsider.

"If this makes the climate loonies in the [United] States realise we've got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation," he told London's The Independent newspaper. Doherty also predicts that the enormous financial costs and higher insurance premiums from hurricanes will convince ordinary people "something very substantial is happening".

Climate modellers have been warning for years that on present trends, global temperatures will rise by 2 to 5 degrees this century. But Flannery, the author of The Future Eaters, is arguably the only scientist in Australia able to get the sort of public attention for global warming that will come from ads on city buses for his new book on the issue.
(24 September 2005)


Earth be dammed

Ira Boudway, Salon
Journalist Jacques Leslie argues that a century of recklessly building dams has put the planet in peril.
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On a list of possible emblems for the 20th century, journalist Jacques Leslie would put the Hoover Dam near the top. Since its dedication in 1935, as Leslie notes in the prologue to his new book, "Deep Water: The Epic Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment," the Hoover has served as the archetype for the more than 45,000 large dams constructed around the globe. "The world's dams," he writes, "have shifted so much weight that geophysicists believe they have slightly altered the speed of the earth's rotation, the tilt of its axis, and the shape of its gravitational field." Spread through 140 countries, these dams generate a fifth of the world's electricity supply and make possible a sixth of its agricultural production. They have also displaced millions of people, depleted thriving fisheries, and caused the degradation of entire riparian and wetland ecosystems. The modern dam, in short, has come to signify both the majesty and folly of our age's drive to conquer nature -- a duality that Leslie captures masterfully in "Deep Water."

A former war correspondent, Leslie first wrote about water five years ago in Harper's. In reporting for that piece -- an account of conflicts being triggered as the earth's growing population scrambles to secure fresh water -- Leslie became convinced that more needed to be said. The struggle for water, he believes, will play a central role in shaping the 21st century, and dams lie at the crux. So Leslie set out to fully investigate dams and the controversies that come with them -- "to see dams whole and in doing so to glimpse the fate of the earth."
(23 September 2005)
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Studies suggest storms linked to global warming

Lisa Stiffler, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Global warming -- the leading culprit for shrinking snowpack in the Cascade Mountains and Lake Washington's rising temperatures -- is increasingly being eyed as the cause of a spike in destructive hurricanes around the world.

Recent studies are building links between climate change and the most lethal tropical hurricanes, including the monstrous Gulf Coast storms -- Katrina and now Rita -- that have forced millions to flee.

"There is a growing consensus that ... a warmer ocean should lead to more intense hurricanes," said Nate Mantua, a scientist with the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group.

Over the past 30 years, the surface temperature of the oceans has increased by about 0.5 to 1 degree Fahrenheit. During that period, the average annual number of the fiercest hurricanes -- Categories 4 and 5 -- has nearly doubled, according to a new study.
(23 September 2005)

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