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Environment - 6 Jan

The Greening of Goldman Sachs
Traci Hukill, Alternet via Truthout
One of the world's leading investment banks concedes there are real financial costs to ignoring the environment - and they don't intend to get stuck paying them.
...
This is not a case of Goldman pretending its job is to save the world, or forsaking its primary mission to make money for its investors. Self-interest is in full effect here. Goldman Sachs is positioning itself to be a leader in the green energy sector.

It's also averting risk. The policy says so in so many strangulated, jargoney words: "We believe that companies' management of environmental and related social risks and opportunities may affect corporate performance."

Translation: there are real financial costs to ignoring the environment and the people who depend on it for their survival, and we don't intend to get stuck paying them.
(3 January 2006)

Watching as the world vanishes
Roxana Robinson, Boston Globe
IT WAS SHAMEFUL, everyone agreed afterward, that no one did anything at the time. Because people knew it was happening. There were reports, early on. People saw things, near where it was happening. They knew. Later, they said they hadn't known, really; they hadn't understood the scale of it. They explained their reasons for doing nothing. They said the government was responsible, there was nothing they could do. Certainly the government was determined to carry out its plans, and maybe people felt overwhelmed and helpless. Maybe this was a place where the curves of ignorance, courage, and survival instinct intersected, to exclude the possibility of action.

The affected population knew about it, of course, but they had no political power, no voice. As they diminished in number, they became increasingly less important, which seemed to validate what was happening. How could they be important if they were gone?
(1 January 2006)

Ancient Global Warming Flipped Ocean Circulation, May Do So Again
ENS
For the first time, evidence that global warming triggered a reversal in the circulation of deep ocean patterns around the world has been uncovered by scientists affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. While the changes they describe occurred 55 million years ago, the scientists say today's conditions are similar and could have similar drastic effects on ocean circulation.

In today's issue of the journal "Nature," scientists Flávia Nunes and Richard Norris describe how they examined a four to seven degree warming period that occurred some 55 million years ago during the closing stages of the Paleocene and the beginning of the Eocene eras.

"The Earth is a system that can change very rapidly," said Nunes. "Fifty-five million years ago, when the Earth was in a period of global warmth, ocean currents rapidly changed direction and this change did not reverse to original conditions for about 20,000 years."
(5 Jan 2006)

U.S. Storm Water Rules Revised to Exempt Oil and Gas Development
ENS
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new regulation that exempts most storm water discharges from oil and gas exploration, production, processing, treatment operations, or transmission facilities from the requirement to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage. The exemption also covers associated construction activities.
(4 Jan 2006)

Oil and Gas Zones Cover One-Quarter of the Peruvian Amazon
ENS
The Peruvian Amazon, a region that still holds some of the most pristine biodiverse rainforests on Earth, is facing an unprecedented wave of new oil and gas exploration.

“Around 54 million acres of remote and intact rainforest is now zoned for oil and gas activities in Peru,” said Dr. Matt Finer, staff ecologist at Save America’s Forests in Washington, DC. “This amounts to more than 25 percent of the entire Peruvian Amazon.”

After Peru had not had any new major oil discoveries in decades, the government lowered royalties on exploration in 2003. This move sparked a resurgence of interest in Peru among foreign oil companies.

Before 2003, there were seven active oil and gas blocks in the Peruvian Amazon being operated by foreign oil companies. Since 2003, fifteen blocks have been leased to foreign oil companies, including nine in 2005. In addition, seven new blocks were created and placed on the market in 2005.
(4 Jan 2006)

Oil, Gas Pose Arctic Technology Challenges - Expert
Reuters, Planet Ark
Increasing oil and gas exploration and shipping in the Arctic will pose huge technological challenges to safeguard the environment as global warming thins the polar ice, a leading expert said on Tuesday.

"Oil and gas activity has just started to increase again in many areas" of the Arctic after a slowdown in the late 1990s, Lars-Otto Reiersen, head of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), told Reuters.

"The risks are still there," he added of oil and gas activity in Alaska, northern Canada or the Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia.
(4 Jan 2006)


On Truth, Fact, Values, Climate Change, and Doughnuts

Peter H. Gleick, the Pacific Institute via ENN
The ongoing brouhaha over the misuse of science in the political process – especially around controversial issues such as stem cells, evolution, and climate change – results from a conflict between facts and values, and persists because of a fundamental misunderstanding of science. Science is a process, not an end point. For those looking for absolute truths, we are more likely to find them in faith, religious teachings, or political ideology.

What does this mean for the difficult issue of climate change? While the vast majority of scientists seek knowledge to expand understanding, the few climate change “skeptics” seek only evidence that supports their worldview. It is this conflict between evidence and preconceived notions that motivates these skeptics, driving them to point to the hole in the doughnut to prove there is no doughnut. ...
(29 December 2005)


One region's bid to slow global warming

Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor
Seven Northeast states this week agreed to cap emissions - amid warnings the move will trigger higher electricity costs.
------------
A new regional effort by seven Northeastern states to limit greenhouse gas emissions is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

Either the plan outlined this week by New York and six New England states will push America toward developing a nationwide plan, or it will waste money and yield few environmental benefits, say those on either side of the emissions debate.

"We will use a market-based system to curtail harmful CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions, ... reduce our dependence on foreign energy, strengthen our economy, and take meaningful steps in the fight against climate change," New York Gov. George Pataki, who spearheaded the initiative, proclaimed Tuesday.

Others are openly doubtful.

"While the states signing on the dotted line will trumpet this proposal, the economic reality ... ought to be a bucket of icy cold New England water," says Frank Maisano, a utility industry lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington. "Now comes the hard part:" meeting the pact's emissions targets and hearing from consumers "paying even higher prices."

At the heart of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a "cap and trade" program that sets a fixed limit on CO2 emissions.
(22 December 2005)


Drier, Tainted Nevada May Be Legacy of Gold Rush

Kirk Johnson, NYTimes
Just outside the chasm of North America's biggest open-pit gold mine there is an immense oasis in the middle of the Nevada desert. It is an idyllic and isolated spot where migratory birds often alight for a stopover. But hardly anything is natural about it.

This is water pumped from the ground by Barrick Gold of Toronto to keep its vast Goldstrike mine from flooding, as the gold company, the world's third largest, carves a canyon 1,600 feet below the level of northern Nevada's aquifer. ...

Goldstrike, meantime, may have only 10 years left, Barrick says, and most of the state's 20 or so other major mines are not expected to last much longer. When they are gone, the vast pits they leave behind will create a deficit in the aquifer equivalent to 20 to 25 years of the total flow of Nevada's longest river, the Humboldt, according to state figures tallied by independent scientists. That is three times as much water as New York City stores in its entire upstate reservoir system. "When they stop pumping, what you're going to hear is a huge sucking sound," said Robert Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has written on water issues in the West. "The impact on the Humboldt River will be catastrophic."

That is not all. Nevada's gold mines will bequeath more toxic mercury waste in their mountainous rock piles than any other industry, about 86 percent of the nation's total in 2003, according to the most recent figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. They already generate more than 3 percent of the airborne mercury pollution, the agency says, equivalent to 25 or more average coal-fired power plants. ...
(30 December 2005)

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