Environment headlines - Oct 10
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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
Water and Wind as Dance Partners and the Warming Globe
Shepherd Bliss, Dissident Voice
Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Jova were watched closely here in the tropics. We have a personal stake in the swirling connection when water and wind meet, become dance partners and take a spin on the floor. I have this image of the roof on my house lifting off and rain rushing down on me and my stuff. A mere tropical storm transferred part of a neighbor’s roof to their yard. As we recently saw in the Gulf Coast, the elemental water/wind partnership can break down stout human structures -- even cities like New Orleans -- with a mere gesture.
Hawai’i remains nervously within our hurricane season, into November. We’ve had our own devastating hurricanes here on the islands. One comical result, especially on Kaua’i, was all the chickens freed from their human cages; you can still see that other two-legged running around wildly and gleefully. Oh, those many human cages that we make, trying to control the weather, animals, people, plants, and other elements, even fire. Down-pouring or gushing water and driving wind together can penetrate many human-made prisons and contraptions, breaking down solid-appearing barriers. Children and chickens love to play in puddles, laughing at adult-imposed order.
... Most published reflections on Katrina and recent hurricanes come from land-based rather than water-based views. Continental perspectives differ from island-based perspectives. They tend to see land more than water. By living here on meager land and with expansive water I see things that I would not have seen from places of much land and less water.
... Its time to “think like water” and “live like water.” Our survival on this fragile and increasingly unstable and unpredictable globe needs it. Hawai’i has much to offer the world, including its water-based source of wisdom.
(7 October 2005)
The long-ish essay ties together many themes, including Peak Oil. Shepherd Bliss writes frequently for Energy Bulletin.
Preparing for Global Warming
Our government can do something about the weather
Carl Pope, San Francisco Chronicle
When I set out on a monthlong trip to Asia this summer, I wasn't prepared for time travel.
My journey turned out to be a tour of catastrophic weather-related disasters: devastating floods in Bombay; vast drought-related fires and smoke in Sumatra; and, upon my return, Hurricane Katrina. Most climate scientists have been predicting that global warming would spawn an increasing number of these events in the future. Seeing all three catastrophes at once led me to one conclusion: That future is now.
There is no way to link any of these individual tragedies to global warming, just as you can't link any one cigarette to lung cancer. But the implications of climate change and the high costs of doing nothing are impossible to ignore. Conservative estimates peg the cost of the Katrina recovery at $70 billion.
The global-warming cynics have tried to distract us with the argument that because we don't know exactly how global-warming pollutants will change the climate, we don't need to act quickly to reduce emissions. They also claim that we would be better off trying to adapt our societies to global warming instead of taking precautionary measures to prevent it. They speak of adaptation, an after-the-fact concept, not preparedness. They emulate Neville Chamberlain rather than Winston Churchill.
But the successive tragedies in Bombay, Malaysia and New Orleans show how thin the climate-variation band is that complex societies can handle. How could the 17 million people of Bombay prepare for 36 inches of rainfall in 24 hours? Well, they could do some things -- such as not build highways that choke natural river beds, ban plastic bags that clog storm drains and protect their mangroves. But if we keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and 36 inches becomes 48, even those measures won't keep up.
Adapting to global warming is futile, but preparedness is imperative. Every city and state should assess its vulnerability to extreme weather and climate change overall. If California is likely to have less snowmelt, we need more water conservation and less unplanned development. If a faster snowmelt means that the Central Valley's levees are at a risk even greater than those of New Orleans, we need to spend the money to strengthen them. If higher sea levels mean re-engineered sewage-treatment plants, we should set aside the money to pay for them now. If catastrophic fires and hurricanes are inevitable, we must tighten our building codes and require developers to build more defensible homes....
Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club.
(2 October 2005)
Disaster as climate probe crashes
Robin McKie, The Observer
A satellite designed by British scientists to measure how fast Earth's polar ice caps are melting crashed shortly after its launch from a Russian missile site yesterday.
CryoSat, the £100 million brainchild of UK climate expert Duncan Wingham, was supposed to survey the thinning of Earth's ice caps from space. Instead it plummeted into the Arctic Ocean at around 4.15pm.
The loss is a major blow for climate research - and for Europe's ambitions to become a major space power. Last night delegates, dignitaries, and senior scientists - who had gathered at Europe's Esrin space control centre in Frascati, Italy, to celebrate CryoSat's success - stood in grim huddles as they tried to digest the news of its fate.
(9 October 2005)
An interview with green evangelical leader Richard Cizik
Amanda Griscom Little, Grist Magazine
Polluters will have to answer to God, not just government, according to Richard Cizik. Vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, Cizik is a pro-Bush Bible-brandishing reverend zealously opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and embryonic stem-cell research. He is also on a mission to convert tens of millions of Americans to the cause of conservation, using a right-to-life framework. Cizik has been crisscrossing the U.S. in recent months, spreading the doctrine of "creation care" to evangelical Christians.
...Q: Do you believe that polluters will literally be destroyed by God?
A: It's very difficult to comprehend the full ramifications of this Bible verse, but I can tell you it's a warning: Destroyers beware. Take heed. It was by and for Christ that this earth was made, which means it is sinfully wrong -- it is a tragedy of enormous proportions -- to destroy, degrade, or despoil it. He who has ears, let him hear
...Q: What is your opinion on the Bush administration's environmental track record?
A: I am a pro-Bush conservative, but I believe this is neither a conservative issue, a liberal issue, a Republican issue, a Democrat issue, a red issue, a blue issue, or a green issue. Has the Bush administration done what I think it should do in terms of reducing pollution and resource consumption? No. But I am modestly optimistic that there has been some momentum in the discussion in Washington and the public at large. I am confident that the administration can change its direction, and we can help them do that.
Q: How much influence do you think you have on the direction of the Republican Party?
A: Our membership is 30 million strong, with 45,000 churches, 7,000 megachurches, some with billion-dollar budgets. We represent 40 percent of the Republican Party. There is a saying that "as evangelicals go, so goes the West" -- meaning our community sets trends. Is everybody in our community ready to support a creation-care agenda? Certainly not. But conservation is conservative at its roots, and they can be regrown.
(5 October 2005)
Bill McKibben, Durango Herald
Forget about the hurricanes. Put them out of your mind. We'll never know for sure that any particular hurricane is caused by global warming, so just don't think about them. Instead, concentrate on the other evidence for climate change that's appeared recently:
• In August, Russian researchers reported that an area of tundra larger than France and Germany combined was rapidly turning into bog as the permafrost melted.
• In early September, British researchers reported that warmer temperatures were causing the soil to heat up and dramatically increasing rates of decay. The temperate forests and fields of the United Kingdom are becoming, in essence, semitropical.
• In mid-September, researchers reported that arctic sea ice had shrunk by 20 percent. "The feeling is we are reaching a tipping point or threshold beyond which sea ice will not recover," one scientist told reporters.
• And in late September, European researchers reported on the biological effects of 2003's record heat wave, the one that killed 15,000 people in France alone. In Italy, they said, corn yields dropped by about 36 percent. Oak and pine also grew more slowly, the study found. In fact, overall, there was 30 percent less plant growth that year.
What do numbers like these - all from the best peer-reviewed journals - show us? That global warming is not some distant problem waiting to appear, some hypothetical trouble we should start preparing for. They show us that the world is already changing with deadly speed. Every time we burn coal and gas and oil, we send carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and now that carbon dioxide is trapping enough heat to create a new planet.
And what's really scary is that each of these developments will in turn trigger more global warming. They're what scientists call feedback loops. For instance, as the Siberian permafrost melts, it releases huge quantities of methane - at some spots last winter the gas was bubbling up so fast that the bogs didn't freeze in even the coldest weather. And methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
(9 October 2005)
Caring For Creation
Bill Moyers, TomPaine-dot-com
Bill Moyers is a broadcast journalist and former host the PBS program NOW With Bill Moyers. This piece is adapted from the keynote address Moyers presented to the annual convention of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Austin, Texas, on October 1, 2005. Moyers also serves as president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, which gives financial support to TomPaine.com.
I don’t fit neatly into the job description of an environmental journalist, although I have kept returning to the beat ever since my first documentary on the subject some 30 years ago. That was a story about how the new Republican governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, had set out to prove that the economy and the environment could share the center lane on the highway to the future.
Those were optimistic years for the emerging environmental movement. Rachel Carson had rattled the cage with Silent Spring, and on the first Earth Day in 1970, 20 million Americans rose from the grassroots to speak for the planet. Even Richard Nixon couldn’t say no to so powerful a subpoena by public opinion, and he put his signature to some far-reaching measures for environmental protection.
I shared that optimism and believed journalism would help to fulfill it. I thought that when people saw a good example they would imitate it, that if Americans knew the facts and the possibilities they would act on them. After all, half a century ago, I had walked every day as a student across the campus of my alma mater, the University of Texas, and could look up at the main tower and read the words: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” I believed we were really on the way toward the third American Revolution. The first had won our independence as a nation. The second had finally opened the promise of civil rights to all Americans. Now the third American Revolution was to be the Green Revolution for a healthy, safe and sustainable future.
Sometimes in a moment of reverie I imagine that it happened. I imagine that we had brought forth a new paradigm for nurturing and protecting our global life support system; that we had faced up to the greatest ecological challenge in human history and conquered it with clean renewable energy, efficient transportation and agriculture, and the non-toxic production and protection of our forests, oceans, grasslands and wetlands. I imagine us leading the world on a new path of sustainability.
Alas, it was only a reverie. The reality is otherwise. Rather than leading the world in finding solutions to the global environmental crises, the United States is a recalcitrant naysayer and backslider. Our government and corporate elites have turned against America’s environmental visionaries-from Teddy Roosevelt to John Muir, from Rachel Carson to David Brower, from Gaylord Nelson to Laurence Rockefeller. They have set out to eviscerate just about every significant gain of the past generation, and while they are at it they have managed to blame the environmental movement itself for the failure of the Green Revolution. If environmentalism isn’t dead, they say, it should be. And they will gladly lead the cortege to the grave
(7 October 2005)
Climate Change Linked to Cruise Ship Illness Outbreaks
Gene Emery, Reuters via ENN
BOSTON - Warming ocean waters may have tainted Alaskan oysters with a bacteria that triggered four outbreaks of illness on a cruise ship among people who ate the shellfish raw, researchers reported this week.
"The rising temperatures of ocean water seem to have contributed to one of the largest known outbreaks of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in the United States," said Joseph McLaughlin of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, referring to the bacterium responsible for outbreak.
He and his colleagues said 62 people fell ill on four week-long cruises in July 2004. Vibrio parahaemolyticus is the most common cause of seafood-related illness in the United States.
"Alaskan waters were thought to be too cold to support" bacteria levels known to cause the illness, said the McLaughlin team. But when they tracked the outbreaks, the source turned out to be an oyster farm in Prince William Sound, 621 miles north of any previous source of tainted oysters.
(7 October 2005)
Wetter atmosphere linked to warming
Curtis Morgan, Knight Ridder Newspapers via Seattle Times
MIAMI - Scientists analyzing 20 years of satellite data have confirmed an atmospheric spike in a prime fuel behind global warming, according to a study in the current issue of the journal Science.
The finding is important because it used real-world readings to verify what computer simulations have predicted is happening in a key zone of Earth's atmosphere, said Brian Soden, a University of Miami scientist and lead author of the study.
It's getting wetter up there, which means it's getting hotter down here.
"This is one of the first studies to show it is increasing at the same rate as the models suggest," said Soden, an associate professor of meteorology at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.
(7 October 2005)
Mike Tidwell interviewed by Erik Kancler
The Louisiana Bayou has been sinking for years, and now it's almost gone-taking New Orleans and Cajun culture with it.
Mike Tidwell knew nothing about the environmental perils facing the Louisiana Bayou when the Washington Post sent him down there, in the spring of 1999, to write about Cajun culture. Yet, having hit on the idea of “hitchhiking” the shrimp and crab boats of the Bayou, he soon came upon numerous and puzzling signs that something was seriously awry in Bayou Country: groves of sun-bleached and leafless Oak trees, half-drowned and hundreds of feet from land; lines of telephone poles planted in swampland; cemeteries where only the tops of graves remained visible.
Bewildered, he asked the locals for an explanation, and everywhere he heard variations on the same theme---from shrimpers, crabbers, and fishermen, no less than from local scientists and conservationists. In the words of a local shrimp-boat captain, upon whose vessel Tidwell first hitched a ride, "All dis land around us, as far as you can see, is droppin' straight down into de water, turnin' to ocean. Someday, Baton Rouge, one hundred miles nort' of here, is gonna be beachfront property."
As Tidwell recounts in Bayou Farewell, the book that emerged from this experience, the problem had begun in 1927, when massive flooding of the Mississippi River prompted the U.S. Government to direct its Army Corps of Engineers to construct a massive levee system, designed to keep the river from ever breaching its banks again. Although this had the intended effect of keeping cities, towns, and farmland dry, all the sediment carried by the mighty river, instead of fanning out and settling throughout the Bayou, creating land as it did so, was now swept straight over the edge of the continental shelf and down to the bottom of the ocean. Stripped of its supply of fresh sediment, the Bayou began a relatively swift descent into the ocean.
In 2003, when Bayou Farewell was published, few Americans had any idea what was going on "down 'da baya." Local politicians continued to drag their feet, mainstream media continued to avoid the matter, and most of our country's major conservation groups remained conspicuously absent while a vast ecology and billion-dollar seafood industry edged towards the point of collapse.
Perhaps most significant of all, the loss of Bayou set the stage for one our country's most devastating and costly disasters: Hurricane Katrina.
(3 October 2005)
A recurring theme: environmental destruction -> vulnerability to disasters -> destruction of infrastructure (oil/gas for example). -BA
‘Tremendous’ impact from gulf oil spills
NOAA says 1,000 pollution reports made in coastal waters
In their first assessment of the chemical and oil spill damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the nation’s ocean stewards said Thursday that the long-term impacts will be “tremendous” and take a year or more to deal with.
“In terms of overall impact, these two hurricanes have created the largest incidents to which NOAA has ever responded,” David Kennedy, director of the Office of Response and Restoration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a statement.
“The scope of the damage in the area is enormous,” added Pat Montanio, chief of NOAA’s Damage Assessment Center.
More than 1,000 pollution reports have been received along the coastal waters of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, NOAA said.
“Prioritizing oil spills in the region is vital,” the agency stated. “It is likely that the long-term effects to the heavily populated Gulf Coast will be tremendous.” Challenges include how to deal with numerous sunken or grounded vessels that may hold pollutants, NOAA said.
The spills, the largest from refineries and storage tanks, include six in southeast Louisiana designated by the Coast Guard as major (more than 100,000 gallons) and three listed as medium (10,000-50,000 gallons).
(6 October 2005)