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Environment - Apr 20

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UK scientists attack oil firms' role in huge Arctic project

David Adam, The Guardian
Sixty-country survey to search for fossil fuels in pristine environment
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British scientists are at loggerheads with US colleagues over a controversial plan to work alongside oil companies to hunt for fossil fuel reserves in the Arctic.

The US Geological Survey is lining up a project with BP and Statoil to find oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, under the auspices of a flagship scientific initiative intended to tackle global warming.

But the head of the British Antarctic Survey, which coordinates UK activity at the poles, has said he is "very uncomfortable" with the idea and has questioned its ethical and scientific justification.

Tackling climate change and working out how it will affect the Arctic and Antarctic is a central theme of International Polar Year (IPY) - a high-profile project to start next spring that involves thousands of scientists from 60 countries.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and last September saw the lowest extent of sea ice cover for more than a century. Scientists say the temperature there could rise by a further 4C-7C by 2100, and the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer by 2060.
(18 April 2006)


Global warming sparks a scramble for black gold under retreating ice

David Adam, Tbe Guardian
Unlike the Antarctic continent spread around the south pole, the Arctic has no formal international treaty to regulate activities. And while howling winds, drifting icebergs and months of freezing darkness kept prospecters at bay, there was little activity to regulate.

But as global warming thaws the ocean's icy layer, oil giants, shipping companies and even the odd enterprising tourist operator are casting their eyes towards the high north.

Last August a Russian vessel, the Akademik Fyodorov, became the first to reach the north pole without an icebreaker - one of seven ships to make it to the top of the world last year. This summer, Russian icebreakers aim to go one better and take paying guests, for £17,000 each. If the ice continues to thin and shrink as expected, then within a few decades cruise liners, container ships and tankers could all head over the pole, shaving thousands of miles off their voyages across the globe.
(18 April 2006)


While Washington slept

Mark Hertsgaard, Vanity Fair
The Queen of England is afraid. International C.E.O.'s are nervous. And the scientific establishment is loud and clear. If global warming isn't halted, rising sea levels could submerge coastal cities by 2100. So how did this virtual certainty get labeled a "liberal hoax"?

....No one pretends that phasing out carbon-based fuels will be easy. The momentum of the climate system means that "a certain amount of pain is inevitable," says Michael Oppenheimer. "But we still have a choice between pain and disaster."

Unfortunately, we are getting a late start, which is something of a puzzle. The threat of global warming has been recognized at the highest levels of government for more than 25 years. Former president Jimmy Carter highlighted it in 1980, and Al Gore championed it in Congress throughout the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher, the arch-conservative prime minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990, delivered some of the hardest-hitting speeches ever given on climate change. But progress stalled in the 1990s, even as Gore was elected vice president and the scientific case grew definitive. It turned out there were powerful pockets of resistance to tackling this problem, and they put up a hell of a fight.

Call him the $45 million man. That's how much money Dr. Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences, helped R. J. Reynolds Industries, Inc., give away to fund medical research in the 1970s and 1980s. The research avoided the central health issue facing Reynolds—"They didn't want us looking at the health effects of cigarette smoking," says Seitz, who is now 94—but it nevertheless served the tobacco industry's purposes. Throughout those years, the industry frequently ran ads in newspapers and magazines citing its multi-million-dollar research program as proof of its commitment to science—and arguing that the evidence on the health effects of smoking was mixed.

In the 1990s, Seitz began arguing that the science behind global warming was likewise inconclusive and certainly didn't warrant imposing mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. He made his case vocally, trashing the integrity of a 1995 I.P.C.C. report on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, signing a letter to the Clinton administration accusing it of misrepresenting the science, and authoring a paper which said that global warming and ozone depletion were exaggerated threats devised by environmentalists and unscrupulous scientists pushing a political agenda. In that same paper, Seitz asserted that secondhand smoke posed no real health risks, an opinion he repeats in our interview. "I just can't believe it's that bad," he says.
(April 2006)
Long comprehensive article. Related from Vanity Fair:
Vanity Fair's First-ever "Green Issue"
Fifty Ways to Help Save the Planet.


California tackles greenhouse emissions

Daniel B. Wood, Christian Science Monitor
Companies could reap huge financial rewards, some say. Others see a net loss of jobs.
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LOS ANGELES – As it has done with tailpipe emission standards, coastal protection, and endangered species, California is trying to become a leader on one of today's most pressing environmental concerns: global warming.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Democratic leaders are getting behind measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions by forcing California businesses to measure how much they emit, and establish ways to limit them.

Last week, Mr. Schwarzenegger brought together top environmental, political, and business leaders for a "Climate Action Summit" in San Francisco. There, he called for a "market based system" in which companies would receive strict caps on how much ozone-depleting gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and others) they could emit. Companies with emissions below such caps could then sell their unexpelled allotment to others who have exceeded their limits.
(18 April 2006)

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