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The Aral Sea: Turning the Tide on an Eco-Catastrophe

David Holley, LA Times
…Over the last half a century, the Aral Sea shrank to less than half its original size and turned salty as irrigation diversion slowly drained what was once one of the world’s largest lakes. Like a gigantic amoeba, the landlocked sea divided in two in the late 1980s. The shrinkage not only wiped out a large fishing industry but blanketed the region with toxic saline dust blown up from the dry seabed.

Now, thanks to a new 8-mile-wide dam and other projects by the Kazakh government and the World Bank, the northern part of the Aral is filling again with fresh water. That in turn is restoring hope and a modest degree of prosperity to a region devastated by the double whammy of a disappearing sea and the Soviet collapse.

…The southern sea, which lies mostly in Uzbekistan, continues to shrink and is too salty to sustain even ocean fish. Instead of trying to reverse the environmental damage there, Uzbekistan’s government is seeking to find and develop gas and oil deposits in the dry seabed.

…Residents take great pride in the reversal of what has long been considered one of the world’s greatest man-made environmental disasters. Such a dramatic ecological success is particularly rare in the former states of the Soviet Union, which have not had the resources to clean up mistakes made under communist rule.

“There are seven wonders of the world, and the eighth is the dam on the Aral Sea,” said Kolbai Danabayev, vice mayor of Aral city, a former fishing harbor known in Soviet times by its Russian name, Aralsk, and located about 30 miles northeast of the dried-up Birlestik harbor. “No one has done something like this before.”
(22 May 2006)

Al Gore’s Unlikely Helpers

Sebastian Mallaby, Washington Post
Liberals famously love John McCain, but that’s not the weirdest political coupling. The oil industry and its Republican allies are rooting for Al Gore, albeit unintentionally.

Gore stars in a movie that opens this week in New York and Los Angeles. The film features the once and maybe future presidential candidate lecturing about climate change: There are charts, bullet points and diagrams; there are maps of ocean currents and endless iceberg pictures. It’s hard to say which menaces the nation more: movie stars who go into politics or politicians who go into movies.

Ordinarily this film would never have been made, let alone scheduled for release in hundreds of theaters. But President Bush and the congressional Republicans have created a Ross Perot moment: a hunger for a leader with diagrams and charts, for a nerd who lays out basic facts ignored by blinkered government. By their contempt for expert opinion on everything from Iraqi reconstruction to the cost of their tax cuts, Republicans have turned Diagram Gore into a hero. By their serial dishonesty, Republicans have created a market for “An Inconvenient Truth” — the title of Gore’s movie.

Republican dishonesty reaches its extreme on the issue of global warming.
(22 May 2006)
NY Times by Andrew Revkin
USA Today

Clinton says must “get off our butts” to stop warming

Pat Jackson, Reuters
…”Climate change is more remote than terror but a more profound threat to the future of the children and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren I hope all of you have,” Clinton said.

“It’s the only thing we face today that has the power to remove the preconditions of civilized society,” he said.

“I am not one of those who is pessimistic about the future of the world, assuming we get off our butts and do something about climate change in a timely fashion.”

…”I think we should be in the Kyoto climate change system,” Clinton said. “We can’t solve global warming or any other problem in the world you can mention that amounts to a hill of beans by ourselves.”
(20 May 2006, thanks to Kif at Gristmill)

Category 6 Hurricanes? They’ve Already Happened

Bill Blakemore, ABC News
Global Warming Winds Up Hurricane Scientists as NOAA Issues Its Atlantic Hurricane Predictions for Summer 2006
There is no official Category 6 for hurricanes, but scientists say they’re pondering whether there should be as evidence mounts that hurricanes around the world have sharply worsened over the past 30 years — and all but a handful of hurricane experts now agree this worsening bears the fingerprints of man-made global warming.

In fact, say scientists, there have already been hurricanes strong enough to qualify as Category 6s. They’d define those as having sustained winds over 175 or 180 mph. A couple told me they’d measured close to 200 mph on a few occasions.

The Saffir-Simpson hurricane category scale is based on wind speed: A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds from 74 to 95 mph, Category 2 has sustained winds from 96 to 110 mph, Category 3 has sustained winds from 111 to 130 mph, Category 4 has sustained winds from 131 to 155, and a Category 5 storm has sustained winds greater than 155 mph.

The categories run in roughly 20 mph increments, so a Cat 6 would be greater than 175 or 180 mph.

“Remember, for each 10 mph increase of wind speed,” says atmosphere scientist Greg Holland, “there’s about 10 times more damage, and 20 times more financial loss.”

In other words, the increase is not “linear” but “exponential.”

To put this all in perspective, Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane out over some hot spots in the Gulf. But when it hit New Orleans, scientists now know, Katrina had winds at a low Category 3, and much of them Category 2…

…because of man-made global warming, most hurricane scientists say now we will probably be getting Category 4 and 5 hurricanes more frequently in the coming decades.

That’s on top of the natural multi-year cycles of hurricane intensity the scientists already know about.

In fact, says Greg Holland, the world already has seen far more frequent Cat 4s and 5s. He points to several studies published over the past 12 months which “indicated the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes had almost doubled around the world in the period since 1970.”

The fact that these patterns (on top of the natural cycles) have been seen in not just one ocean but all tropical and subtropical waters around the world is what worries many hurricane experts — and, they say, it is why they now calculate that they are due to man-made global warming, not regional natural weather patterns.
(21 May 2006)
Related: ‘Above normal’ hurricanes in 2006 (BBC)