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Burst oil pipeline causes ‘catastrophe’ in Alaska

Andrew Gumbel, The Independent
A burst pipeline in Alaska’s North Slope has caused the Arctic region’s worst oil spill, spreading more than 250,000 gallons of crude oil over an area used by caribou herds and prompting environmentalists again to question the Bush administration’s drive for more oil exploration there.

The leak was first spotted by a British Petroleum worker 11 days ago, and was reported to have been plugged a few days later. Initial hopes expressed by BP that the spill was limited to a few tens of thousands of gallons proved to be over-optimistic. Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation has steadily increased its estimate of the size of the spill, the latest estimate putting it at around 265,000 gallons.

The leak, whose cause is unknown, occurred in a remote part of the most sparsely populated state in the United States, and it remains to be seen what damage, if any, it has done to ecosystems. It does, however, give grist to groups who have challenged Washington’s assertion that oil can be prospected and shipped while leaving only the gentlest of “footprints” on the landscape.
(14 March 2006)

UK: New suburbia is an environmental cul-de-sac

Jim White, Telegraph
Just down the road from my house, John Prescott’s vision of Britain is taking shape. Over the past five years, a strip of land stretching for more than a mile beside the railway has been modernised into concrete and asphalt.

Old sidings have bloomed into cul-de-sacs and closes. Patches of scrubland have transmogrified into squares and crescents. Decommissioned factories and long-redundant warehouses have been replaced by loft developments. What was once a brooding corridor of post-industrial curiosity has been blanded out by bricks and mortar, its edges smoothed into history by 2,500 new homes.

This is urban living, according to the blurb outside the latest show home, the chance to enjoy the amenities of the city, to engage with what it describes as “the local cosmopolitan café society”. All this at a bargain price of £750,000 for the four-bedroomed canalside townhouse.

Except, looking around the new estates the other day, watching instant suburbia flourish where once were just oily puddles, it soon becomes clear that there is nothing here except houses and cars – lots and lots of cars. There are no schools, no shops, no doctors’ surgeries, no parks, no leisure centres, no public transport connections, just streets called things like Brook Drive and Meadow Avenue.
(14 March 2006)

U.S. about to become net food importer

Ken Meter, Gristmill
A little over a year ago The Wall Street Journal (31 Jan 2005) reported that the U.S. would become a net food importer on a more or less permanent basis by the end of 2005. To me, this is an immense challenge to our food security, but also marks a great opportunity for the U.S. to rebuild its food markets. I’m interested in how others see it.

Trade data for December have not been released yet. When they are, we’ll know if the Journal’s prediction is true. Still, one look at USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) numbers shows the trend is upon us.

If America becomes a net food importer, we’ll face greater costs. We’ll spend more for the energy needed to bring food to our tables. Already we spend about $139 billion each year paying for the energy required to grow and distribute food. That’s far more than cost of the first year of the war in Iraq.

I find myself hoping that this new emergence of food imports will serve as a wake-up call to all of us who eat. I hope it will encourage us to learn more about where our food comes from, to get acquainted with more farmers, and to invest in more localized food processing and distribution. The reward will be healthier urban and rural citizens, and, assuming we reclaim our ability to feed ourselves, a stronger economy.
(10 Feb 2006)

Is America facing yet another dust bowl?

Herald Online
Conditions similar to those that led to 1930s drought meteorologists have warned oceanic conditions similar to those that triggered the ruinous “Dust Bowl” drought again appear to be in place.

The exceptionally warm Atlantic waters that played a major role in the record-breaking 2005 hurricane season, coupled with cooler-than-normal Pacific waters, are weakening and changing the course of a low-level jet stream that normally channels moisture into the Great Plains.

Effects are starting to be felt in “America’s breadbasket,” as the southern Great Plains region is already suffering from higher temperatures and a prolonged lack of precipitation.

Why could a new Dust Bowl drought occur?
(27 Feb 2006)

Climate change ‘irreversible’ as Arctic sea ice fails to re-form

Steve Connor, The Independent
Sea ice in the Arctic has failed to re-form for the second consecutive winter, raising fears that global warming may have tipped the polar regions in to irreversible climate change far sooner than predicted.

Satellite measurements of the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice show that for every month this winter, the ice failed to return even to its long-term average rate of decline. It is the second consecutive winter that the sea ice has not managed to re-form enough to compensate for the unprecedented melting seen during the past few summers.

Scientists are now convinced that Arctic sea ice is showing signs of both a winter and a summer decline that could indicate a major acceleration in its long-term rate of disappearance. The greatest fear is that an environmental “positive feedback” has kicked in, where global warming melts ice which in itself causes the seas to warm still further as more sunlight is absorbed by a dark ocean rather than being reflected by white ice.
(14 March 2006)
The Oil Drum has a critique of this article — see the follow excerpt.

Polar ice cap (dissecting the Independent’s article)

Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
After seeing this incredibly depressing piece in the Independent,

Sea ice in the Arctic has failed to re-form for the second consecutive winter, raising fears that global warming may have tipped the polar regions in to irreversible climate change far sooner than predicted. …

I wanted to check out the data for myself (not trusting the spin of headline writers), and I found the absolutely incredible website The Cryosphere Today at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They already made all the graphs I needed, and have animated GIFS of the icecaps to boot.

For example, this picture seems to address what the Independent is talking about, but I’m inclined to say that while the situation is clearly bad and getting worse, the Independent’s spin is a little overdone.
(13 March 2006)

A Climate Change of Heart
Even Bush’s business allies have seen the light on global warming. But he’s dug in.

Eugene Linden, Los Angeles Times via Common Dreams
A beleaguered president stubbornly insists on staying the course even as his staunchest allies abandon him. I’m not talking about Iraq, but global warming.

Here’s a case where virtually everybody is acknowledging a weapon of mass destruction — the threat of climate chaos — but still President Bush refuses to take action. When the evangelical community, Bush’s stalwart base, called for climate action last month, the news grabbed headlines. But the more important Bush defectors on this issue are some of the world’s largest corporations, including British Petroleum, General Electric, DuPont and Cinergy. So, the question arises: Why does Bush persist in his increasingly lonely stance?

The answer may lie in the difference between realpolitik and ideology. Many corporations initially opposed climate action as a practical matter, because of its perceived costs. The Bush administration’s opposition seems to derive from its ideological hostility to international treaties and the United Nations on the one hand and environmentalists on the other.

…Two things happened to change corporate attitudes. The destructive power of extreme weather events has become impossible to ignore (for instance, Hurricane Katrina and the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed nearly 35,000 people). Even to the casual observer, the climate system seems to be popping rivets. And multinational corporations couldn’t afford to be too out of step with their customers and stakeholders, particularly in the many countries where global warming is viewed as a clear and present danger.

Eugene Linden is the author of “The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather and the Destruction of Civilizations.”
(14 March 2006)

Report: 2004 set record for carbon dioxide

Alexander G. Higgins, Associated Press via Contra Costa Times
GENEVA – Carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases reached record high levels in the atmosphere in 2004, the World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday in a new report aimed at providing an annual measuring system for emissions widely blamed for global warming.

The publication of WMO’s first annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin gives the scientific community worldwide data on the amount of heat-trapping gases created in the burning of fossil fuels.

“Global observations coordinated by WMO show that levels of carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, continue to increase steadily and show no signs of leveling off,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.
(14 March 2006)