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A risk of total collapse

Dylan Evans, The Guardian
We would be foolish to take for granted the permanence of our fragile global civilisation
Is it possible that global civilisation might collapse within our lifetime or that of our children? Until recently, such an idea was the preserve of lunatics and cults. In the past few years, however, an increasing number of intelligent and credible people have been warning that global collapse is a genuine possibility. And many of these are sober scientists, including Lord May, David King and Jared Diamond – people not usually given to exaggeration or drama.

The new doomsayers all point to the same collection of threats – climate change, resource depletion and population imbalances being the most important. What makes them especially afraid is that many of these dangers are interrelated, with one tending to exacerbate the others. It is necessary to tackle them all at once if we are to have any chance of avoiding global collapse, they warn.

Dylan Evans is a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England
(21 December 2005)

Melting of permafrost threatens homes and roads, scientists warn

David Adam, Guardian
· Study foresees huge release of carbon by 2100
· Water runoff could affect global currents
Global warming could melt almost all of the top layer of Arctic permafrost by the end of the century. Scientists say the thaw would release vast stocks of carbon into the atmosphere, threaten ocean currents and wreck roads and buildings across Canada, Alaska and Russia.

David Lawrence, a climate scientist with the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, said: “There’s a lot of carbon stored in the soil. If the permafrost does thaw, as our model predicts, it could have a major influence on climate.” Thawing permafrost is one of several climate “tipping points” feared by environmental experts, because carbon released by melted soil would accelerate global warming. Permafrost makes up about a quarter of land surface in the northern hemisphere and the upper layer is believed to hold at least 30% of the carbon stored in soil worldwide.
(21 December 2005)

Gas emissions reached high in U.S. in ’04

Andrew C. Revkin, NY Times
American emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming reached an all-time high in 2004, rising 2 percent from the year before, the Energy Department said, nearly double the average annual rate measured since 1990.

The department’s Energy Information Administration, in a report issued Monday, also raised earlier government estimates of emissions for 2003, pushing that year past 2000 into second place.

No estimates were available for United States emissions in 2005, although energy experts say increased economic growth this year is likely to make it another record-setter.
(21 December 2005)

No Talk and no action
Why the Montreal climate summit was too painful to watch

Bill McKibben, Grist magazine

I’ve been to climate meetings in locales that stretch from Kyoto to The Hague, Mexico City to the Maldives. It would have been awfully easy to get in the old hybrid and drive two hours north to Montreal for the big climate-change confab that wrapped up this weekend — if nothing else, it’s a city I love deeply. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it in the end. I knew it was going to be too painful to watch.

Too painful because, as it has since the issue first emerged, the United States was the one blocking progress.

…Too painful because these are the years when we desperately need to be making progress. Eventually even we will have no choice but to start doing something about climate change. But each new issue of Science and Nature makes it clear that the important time is now — that the climatic tipping point is nearer than we thought. More to the point, each passing year brings China and India further along their development path, using precisely the same raw material — coal — that we used to build our wealth.

Bill McKibben is the author of The End of Nature. He is at work on a book about the future of human and natural communities tentatively titled Deep Economy.
(12 December 2005)

A new take on eco-tours in Kentucky

Roger Alford, Associated Press (via Globe & Mail)
…Mountaintop-removal coal mining, which had largely been relegated to the Appalachian backcountry, has been edging closer to major highways because of a mining boom sparked by higher coal prices.

And that’s created a sort of reverse ecotourism among people seeking to get their first up-close look at the much-debated practice. It’s also provided a new opportunity for environmentalists to try to sway more people into opposing such mines.
(21 December 2005)