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Environment Headlines - 3 November, 2005

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New study warns of total loss of Arctic tundra

Andrew C. Revkin, NY Times
If emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at the current rate, there may be many centuries of warming and a near-total loss of Arctic tundra, according to a new climate study. Over all, the world would experience profound transformations, some potentially beneficial but many disruptive, and all at a pace rarely seen in nature, said the authors of the study, being published today in The Journal of Climate.

"The question is no longer whether we will need to address this problem, but when we will need to address the problem," said Kenneth Caldeira, an author of the study and a climate expert at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, based at Stanford University.

"We can either address it now, before we severely and irreversibly damage our climate, or we can wait until irreversible damage manifests itself strongly," Dr. Caldeira said. "If all we do is try to adapt, things will get worse and worse." The paper's lead author, Bala Govindasamy of the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said it might take 20 or 30 years before the scope of the human-caused changes becomes evident, but from then on there is likely to be no debate.

The researchers ran a computer model that simulates both the climate system and the flow of heat-trapping carbon into the air in the form of carbon dioxide, then back into soils and the ocean. ...

The authors stressed that the uncertainties were high over such a time span, and said the study was intended to illustrate broad consequences rather than project specific ones.
(1 November 2005)


Interpol links environmental crimes to mob

Melanie Christiansen, ABC (Australia)
The head of Interpol's Environmental Crimes Committee suspects that those behind the world's major wildlife smuggling and illegal waste dumping operations may well be linked to organised crime. Interpol's Andrew Lauderback will outline his concerns at a conference of international environmental regulators in Brisbane today.
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MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: These days terrorism dominates the international crime fighting agenda, but Interpol's Environmental Crimes Committee Chairman, Andrew Lauderback, thinks there's a growing threat to the world from environmental criminals.
ANDREW LAUDERBACK: There's a lot of money to be made in smuggling of endangered species, there's a lot of money to be made in getting rid of hazardous waste illegally, and our efforts on the government side to control it are limited.
MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: Today, Andrew Lauderback will tell some of the world's leading environmental regulators, gathered for a conference in Brisbane, that they're fighting a fast-growing enemy.
ANDREW LAUDERBACK: A recent study in the United States determined that environmental crime is one of the fastest growing areas of international crime, garnering these criminal enterprises an estimated 22 to 31 billion dollars a year.
MELANIE CHRISTIANSEN: And he's concerned that more and more, the people behind these lucrative criminal enterprises are organised crime bosses and even terrorists.
ANDREW LAUDERBACK: There has been evidence in the UK of pollution crimes that are committed to provide funding to the IRA. There've been links between ivory poaching and Somali warlords. There's been links between the illegal waste trade in Italy and organised crime. ...
(27 October 2005)


Blair signals shift over climate change

David Adam, Guardian
Tony Blair appeared last night to undermine more than 15 years of climate change negotiations when he signalled a shift away from a target-based approach to cutting greenhouse emissions. Speaking at the end of the first day of a summit in London of environment and energy ministers, the prime minister said that legally binding targets to reduce pollution made people "very nervous and very worried".

He said when the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012, the world would need a more sensitive framework for tackling global warming. "People fear some external force is going to impose some internal target on you ... to restrict your economic growth," he said. "I think in the world after 2012 we need to find a better, more sensitive set of mechanisms to deal with this problem." His words come in the build-up to UN talks in Montreal this month on how to combat global warming after Kyoto. "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge," he said.
(2 November 2005)
Related stories at the Guardian: Environmentalists tell PM: don't abandon global warming fight and Blair and climate change: Leading by example. The BBC has posted: Blair makes climate summit call.


Australia rules out new post-Kyoto limits

James Grubel, Reuters via ENN
CANBERRA - Australia said on Monday negotiating new greenhouse gas emission levels for the Kyoto Protocol is a waste of time, dampening hopes a major environment meeting in Canada will set new targets beyond 2012.

Australia's Environment Minister Ian Campbell said most countries would fail to meet their Kyoto targets and trying to negotiate new limits at an upcoming meeting in Montreal would achieve nothing. "The concept of getting up another negotiation process for caps, targets and timetables is a terrible waste of time," Campbell told Reuters in an interview.

Australia has been a trenchant critic of the Kyoto Protocol and, along with the United States, has refused to ratify the pact. Kyoto, which only came into force in February after years of delays, requires developed nations to cut greenhouse emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by 2008-2012. But the United States and Australia say setting targets is bad for business and excluding big developing nations, such as China and India, from the pact's first phase is a mistake. China is among the world's top polluters.
(1 November 2005)
This Australian citizen wonders when the rest of the world will get around to sanctions.-LJ


Bruce Sterling: The planet *is* an ark

Jon Lebkowsky, WorldChanging
With heavy weather upon us and even boring, established news conduits like CNN talking apocalypse, we consulted the Viridian Pope-Emperor, WorldChanging ally #1 Bruce Sterling, to get his take as he was leaving for Europe and Art Futura.

Q: With Arctic ice melting and the worst hurricane season in recorded history, are we past the point where mitigation of global climate change is going to have much of an effect?

A: The climate crimes we've already committed aren't much compared to what's coming down the pipe. It's pretty cynical to write off mitigation when we haven't as yet even tried it. It may well be that the roof is on fire, but that doesn't make it good policy to chop up the walls and floors and add them to the blaze.

Q: Should we be building an ark or two?
A: The planet IS an ark.

Q: Where do you propose to hide or construct such a thing? There's no place to hide from the sky.
A: This might be a great time to make backups of your data and scatter 'em all over the planet. If you're in Tornado Alley it wouldn't kill you to clean out the storm shelter. But there's no particular safe haven where one is sure to go untroubled by weather. People went to Florida because they liked the weather. Los Angeles has great weather and it's very imperilled. Everybody and everywhere is at risk. Trent Lott lost his house and the oil industry took a major hit from Katrina. I've personally seen a minor hurricane rip limbs from trees in the White House lawn.

Arks are mere Biblical legend. Nobody who isn't mythical has ever thrived in a stupid ark. This is sheer Marxist accumulation. When real mayhem breaks out, it makes no sense for some tiny group, sci-fi movie style, to retreat to some survivalist enclave and sit on a stack of gold bars. You don't survive that way. If you're unlucky enough to be situated in serious Disorder, the smartest thing to do is retreat in whatever area of order seems handy, and regroup. Await a change in circumstances and prepare to resettle the mess.

Q: In getting certain world leaders to be responsive to the increasingly obvious, we can't seem to get past legacy issues (e.g. George W. Bush ignoring Kyoto because it would "cost jobs.") What should the average person, or at least the citizen change agent, be doing at this point to support both mitigation and adaptation?

A: I don't want to be a big cynic about this, but really, at this point, who WANTS George W Bush to get all interested in climate change? Sooner or later, that guy poisons everything he touches. He'd probably start a highly secretive and utterly disorganized "Department of Greenhouse Security," where Bechtel apparatchiks took over abandoned army bases to install leaky nuclear power plants in dead of night with extraordinarily-rendered, off-the-books, union-busting labor. Would that help? If he fought the Greenhouse in utter sincerity and with all his might, would he win?

George Bush doesn't care about Kyoto and "jobs." The American right's loathing for Kyoto is strictly a nationalist, anti-globalist, unilateralist power issue. They don't want Kyoto inspectors dropping by to double-check Exxon-Mobil's emissions; they figure they'd show up in black helicopters, with handcuffs and guns. Because that's exactly how they themselves would behave, if they had the chance.

I don't believe in "average people" doing anything. People ought to support mitigation and adaptation within their own line of work, no matter how un-average that is. I mean: if you're butcher, baker, ballerina, banker, or a plumber, envision yourself as the post-fossil-fuel version of yourself, and get right after it. We'd be best off struggling to create some kind of Solidarnosc-style entirely alternate society, for a 1989-sized across-the-board upheaval. So, just, well, stop co-operating with the status quo. Stop collaborating. Stop being afraid and stop feeling helpless. Just stop all that and start living by entirely other means.

Be glad for any scrap of choice you're offered. The UN expects 50 million people to have their lives entirely uprooted by environmental mayhem -- EVERY YEAR. That could be you or me. You're worried that a hybrid car costs more money? People in Key West are standing on the roofs of drowned cars.

Our best hope is to "collapse upwards."
(27 October 2005)


Calculating climate change

Chris Talbott, Fairbanks News-Miner
The disappearance of sea ice and the effects it has on the people of the Far North is well documented.

The problem is much more complex, though. Add just one more variable, anthropological archaeologist Anne Jensen said, and watch the problems grow. Add two and the results could cost millions of dollars.

All along the Arctic Ocean coast, the combination of disappearing sea ice, increased storm activity and intensity, and melting permafrost is causing real and immediate problems. It is dramatic evidence of climate change, she said. Shishmaref and its $100 million move to a more protected area grabs all the headlines, Jensen said. But in Barrow, where Jensen works as the senior scientist for the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., the ocean is alarmingly close to the city's utilities corridor.

If a storm surge pushes into the utilidor, Jensen said there aren't enough honey buckets in Barrow to meet the emergency. And the one water-hauling business in town wouldn't be able to handle the immediate need for fresh water. "It would become a big public-health problem," Jensen said. "All of the sudden you have 3,000 to 4,000 people going to the bathroom with no way to haul it to the sewage treatment plant we're building here."

Jensen is among 36 scientists in vastly different fields who have banded together to help paint a global picture of an arctic region in great flux due to climate change. The paper they published today in the scientific journal "Climatic Change" should look familiar to most Alaskans who have spent any time at all thinking about how the land is changing.

From roads buckling on top of melting permafrost to altered game patterns to the eventual destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure, change is happening quickly and dramatically in dozens of ways across the Arctic and Alaska.
(31 October 2005)


UN warns of poverty as world’s lakes evaporate

Fiona Harvey, Financial Times via Common Dreams
Lakes around the world are shrinking and becoming less productive because of climate change, pollution, poor irrigation practices and neglect, the United Nations warned on Monday.

African lakes are among the worst affected, with satellite images unveiled on Monday showing dramatic differences between the extent of some lakes and rivers today and their extent a few decades ago. Lake Chad has shrunk by almost 90 per cent, while water levels in Lake Victoria - Africa’s biggest freshwater lake - have fallen by a metre since the early 1990s. Niger has lost more than 80 per cent of its freshwater wetlands in the past 20 years.

Klaus Topfer, executive director of the UN’s Environment Programme, said: “Economically, lakes are of huge importance. I hope that [the satellite images] will ring a warning around the world that, if we are to overcome poverty and meet internationally agreed development goals by 2015, the sustainable management of Africa’s lakes must be part of the equation. Otherwise we face increasing tensions and instability as rising populations compete for life’s most precious of resources.”

Lakes and waterways are potential flashpoints for conflicts between countries, as the pressure of demand for fresh water fuels disagreements over how to share the resource.
(31 October 2005)


Hurricanes spawn oil industry scams

John Passacantando, MinutemanMedia via Common Dreams
It happens all too often in the aftermath of a major disaster…the con artists swoop like vultures into a disaster zone to peck away at the victims and to profit from a vulnerable system. We’ve seen it so many times before, from people pocketing money meant for charity to heartless home repair companies gouging victims. Sadly, this tragic trend continues with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

To date, the American Red Cross and the Justice Department are investigating some 500 fraud cases. On their list: the usual suspects of petty pickpockets and fraudulent insurance claims. But there is one glaring omission-the oil and gas industry. That industry is callously trying to use the storms as an excuse for relaxing vital environmental protections and to open up our vulnerable coastlines to drilling. But instead of being held accountable for conning the public- the industry has found an accomplice in our government.

John Passacantando is Executive Director of Greenpeace, an independent campaigning organization that uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.
(2 October 2005)


Chiefs warn of nuclear waste plans for native territory

Bill Curry, Globe and Mail
Some are worried at possible moves to bury spent fuel in the Canadian Shield
------------
Regina - Aboriginal chiefs gathered from across the country are being put on notice that plans are afoot to bury nuclear waste in their traditional territory.

Outside the Regina convention room where more than 600 chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations are gathered this week, the AFN has set up a large display, complete with pictures, of how nuclear waste could be buried inside the Canadian Shield in the coming decades. "Yikes," said one woman at the convention as she scanned the display outlining the AFN's "Nuclear Waste Dialogue."

David Gorman, one of the AFN's four co-ordinators for the dialogue, has been visiting reserves to let chiefs and tribal council members know that key decisions are being made about storing nuclear waste that could affect native reserves in the coming decades. "I'll talk about radiation and a little bit of the science. I'll talk about the proposed options for economic opportunities for regions," Mr. Gorman said, in describing his presentations.

"I would just say, 'Be aware that industry might approach [your community] to build a facility on your territory and they might sweeten the deal with economic opportunities and money.' " The issue is being driven by the impact of the federal Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, passed by Parliament in 2002. The law created a new Nuclear Waste Management Organization, led by representatives of Canada's nuclear industry. The organization is scheduled to report in two weeks on its long-term plan for storing nuclear waste.
(2 November 2005)

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