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Environment - Mar 27

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Sea rise could be 'catastrophic'

Paul Rincon, BBC News
Earth could be headed for catastrophic sea level rise in the next few centuries if greenhouse gases continue to rise at present rates, experts say. A study in the US journal Science suggests a threshold triggering a rise in sea level of several metres could be reached before the end of the century.

Scientists used an ancient period of warming to predict future changes.

Greenland could be as warm by 2100 as it was 130,000 years ago, when melting ice raised sea levels by 3-4m. The implication is that Greenland would - eventually - melt by as much in response to present warming.

The findings come from two studies published in Science by Dr Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona in Tucson and colleagues. Their computer models show that, in addition to widespread melting of the Greenland ice sheet, this rate of warming could also lead to the collapse of about half the West Antarctic ice sheet in 500 years.
(24 March 2006)
Related:
Climate Data Hint at Irreversible Rise in Seas (NY Times)
Many others.


Global warming will change Pacific Northwest
Less snow in winter, worse wildfires are likely

Robert McClure, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
From the crests of the Cascades to Puget Sound, people in the Pacific Northwest can expect to experience changes driven by global warming.

Expect more winter flooding, more summer water shortages, more destructive wildfires and more troubled salmon runs. And, on average, shorter ski seasons.

The news isn't all bad. Maybe you won't have to chain up going over Snoqualmie Pass as often. It won't be as cold, on average, in the winter. In many years, you will be able to get away with starting your spring garden earlier.

This is the forecast from climate experts studying likely effects here. In fact, these changes already are happening.

For instance, the North Cascades have been called America's Alps, but their glaciers are melting. Glaciers lost nearly a third of their mass in the past century. All 117 North Cascades glaciers monitored since 1984 by researchers from Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., have receded. Seven are gone entirely.
(24 March 2006)


The pollution gap

Andy McSmith, The Independent
Report reveals how the world's poorer countries are forced to pay for the CO2 emissions of the developed nations
------------
Over 70 million Africans and an even greater number of farmers in the Indian sub-continent will suffer catastrophic floods, disease and famine if the rich countries of the world fail to change their habits and radically cut their carbon emissions.

The stark warning, contained in a private Government document commissioned by Gordon Brown, comes days ahead of an announcement that will show Tony Blair backing away from his promise to "lead internationally" on climate change. The Government has decided to delay setting targets for industry to cut carbon emissions until other EU governments set theirs. Previously, Mr Blair has made a virtue out of leading the way in Europe.

The bleak facts on how climate change threatens the third world were laid out in a briefing paper drawn up this month by the Department for International Development. It pointed out that a quarter of Africa's population lives within 100km of the sea coast. As sea levels rises, when global warming melts the ice pack, the number of Africans at risk from coastal flooding will increase from one million in 1990 to 70 million in 2080.
(25 March 2006)


It’s getting hot in here
Interview with Time reporter Eugene Linden

Kit Stolz, San Diego CityBEAT
Ice sheets are melting, the weather is changing and Eugene Linden wonders why no one seems to care

...But will [global warming] matter to us? Eugene Linden, a former science writer for Time, fears it will. In his recently published book, The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations, he looks at how climate shifts have devastated civilizations in the past, and connects that to the recent discovery, based on eons-old ice records, that “in the past, climate made many large, sudden shifts from warm to cold and cold to warm.” This he calls a “flickering climate.”

Q: How does our state of knowledge regarding global warming compare with what people in the Middle Ages knew about the Black Plague? Are we equally ignorant?

A: I would say we’re ahead of the people of the Middle Ages, who didn’t understand disease theory, but we’re not anywhere near close to a full understanding of what we’re facing. Everything is a surprise right now. We think the Antarctic ice sheet should be getting bigger, but it’s not. The Greenland ice sheet is wasting far more quickly than we thought it would. But we do know that we have put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than at any point in the last 400,000 years, and we can normalize for everything else, including sunspot activity. Since CO2 started going off the charts, crazy things have started to happen.

...Q: What reaction do you hear from scientists on this?

A: Enormous frustration. They feel they’ve done all they can do, but no one seems to be listening. Thomas Karl, in a 2003 paper in Science, wrote that we are now entering the unknown, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Q: A reporter for ABC, Bill Blakemore, blogged recently that the few reporters who cover this beat exclusively often find themselves checking in with colleagues, partly “to do some mutual therapy.” Has the story taken a psychological toll on you?

A: I haven’t talked about it that much with other reporters, but I understand why you might need a support group, because we’re kind of out in the wilderness on this subject. Every time something dramatic happens, such as the collapse of an ice shelf in Antarctica, then the experts get wheeled out of storage, but then something else happens and the story gets pushed to the back burner.

...Q: But it’s not just reporters who are at fault, is it?

A: A lot of the confusion is the result of a well-organized effort to mau-mau editors by fossil-fuel companies who did not want to see the U.S. join the international effort [to control CO2 emissions]. And the attention span of editors is like an 8-year-old’s—they’re always looking for the next story. The media and the public look at the story as something far off in the future, but what happens if the future comes up and taps you on the shoulder?

...Q: In your book, you write that one of the world’s biggest insurance companies, Swiss Re, has warned some of its clients, such as ExxonMobil, that they may drop coverage for liability on climate change-related lawsuits if Exxon continues to oppose action to reduce emissions. Will they act?

A: As soon as Swiss Re sees that liability for climate-change related lawsuits is a serious possibility, they will likely take some action. If they see some clear paths for action, and [statistical] outlier corporations that refuse to respond, then they will call for an exclusion in their insurance for directors and officers. That’s what they’ve told me, and I’ve been talking to insurance executives on this issue since the early 1990s. If you as a corporation are going to knowingly court the risk of lawsuits, why should we, the insurance company, be responsible? One executive compared it to the situation with asbestos, where damages were apportioned according to market share. Since ExxonMobil is estimated to produce 1 percent of the CO2 emissions around the world, that’s a lot.
(22 March 2006)
The Most Dangerous WMD of Them All by Linden (just published)
Eugene Linden's website
Interview (audio)


A new ethics needed to save life on Earth

Mario Osava, Inter Press Service via Common Dreams
CURITIBA, Brazil - Emotions and sensitivity are "the essence, the core dimension of the human being," said the Brazilian theologian at a panel on "ethics, biodiversity and sustainability". The panel formed part of the Global Civil Society Forum, held parallel to the Mar. 20-31 Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8).

It is not reason but feeling that is involved in our first contact with reality, and "today's great crisis is not economic, political or religious, but a crisis of affect, of the capacity to feel a connection with others," he said.

It is indispensable to "take care of all living things," and science shows that cooperation is the "supreme law of the universe," he added.

"The world is not made up of objects but of relationships. It was cooperation that made possible the leap from animal to humanity, and without it we are dehumanised, which is what occurs in the case of capitalism," the theologian told around 300 activists, most of them small farmers.

He added that the principle of responsibility underlies the criticism of transgenic products, the need to take precautions in the face of unpredictable and unknown consequences, the possibility that genetic modification of food could break down the balance between the "billions of bacteria" and molecules that make up a human being.

Boff, who left the priesthood after suffering sanctions at the hands of the Vatican for expressing "dangerous ideas" over the past two decades, has outlined his ecological concerns in several books. He has been invited to give talks at several panels at the COP8
(24 March 2006)
Related (by the same author): Local Action for Global Change.


Seattle to Kyoto: You can't get there by car

Warren Cornwall, Seattle Times
If Seattle is going to do its part to slow global warming, people are going to have to get out of their cars.

That's the cornerstone - and also the biggest challenge - of a plan to be unveiled today for how the city can join countries from around the world in trying to meet the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 international treaty to reduce climate-changing gases such as carbon dioxide.

The report, written at the request of Mayor Greg Nickels, says that if the city really wants to cut greenhouse gases, it needs to spend millions more on transit, build more compact neighborhoods, encourage energy efficiency and use more fuels from plants rather than petroleum.

And a critical part of the plan - perhaps its toughest political sell - involves driving up the cost of driving.

"I think what we're going to find is it's not an easy task," Nickels said Thursday. "I think we're also going to find it's not impossible."

Nickels, who has gained national attention by calling on other U.S. mayors to embrace the Kyoto requirements, will unveil the recommendations at an event today at City Hall with former Vice President Al Gore, Congressmen Jay Inslee and Adam Smith, and Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club.
(24 March 2006)

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