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Environment - May 27

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Situation in Sinking Tuvalu Scary, Says PM

Elaine Lies, Reuters via Planet Ark
TOKYO - Low-lying nations such as Tuvalu are slowing slipping under the waves and only dramatic steps, such as legal action against big polluter the United States, might stem the tide, Tuvalu Prime Minister Maatia Toafa said on Thursday.

His tiny South Pacific nation is a cluster of islands and atolls with a land area of just 26 square kilometres (10 sq mile). Land where he fished as a child is now under water. He blames global warming.

Tuvalu, just like the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, feels they are victims of energy-hungry economies, such as the United States, Europe and Asia whose industries and transport belch vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the air.

"I would say the situation is very scary now," Toafa told Reuters in Tokyo, prior to a two-day leaders' summit of Japan and 14 Pacific island nations that starts on Friday.

"Even recently, one of the islands by (our) main island capital just disappeared," he added.
(26 May 2006)


Jet streams off track, may affect weather patterns

Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times
Seattle researchers have discovered that warming of the Earth's atmosphere seems to be shoving jet streams out of their normal tracks — a change that could expand deserts and profoundly affect the world's weather patterns.

Over the past 27 years, the high-speed air currents that steer storms to temperate zones in both hemispheres have shifted about one degree toward the poles, or about 70 miles, scientists estimate in a paper published today in the journal Science.

"This gives direct, observational evidence of massive atmospheric circulation changes," said University of Washington climate scientist Qiang Fu, the paper's lead author.

The researchers stopped short of attributing the shift to global warming.

It's also impossible to say whether the shift is playing a role in recent droughts in the so-called subtropics, including the American Southwest, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, said co-author John M. Wallace, also a UW atmospheric scientist.

But if the jet streams continue to migrate away from the equator, wider swaths of the planet will almost certainly become hotter and drier, Wallace said.
(26 May 2006)
Related:
Deserts may be creeping closer to cities
(Associated Press)


Green Water and Sustainable Agriculture

David Zaks and Chad Monfreda, WorldChanging
If green is the new black, then water is the new oil. With climate change threatening harsher droughts and water scarcity facing nearly 60% of humanity, water is critical to any vision of sustainability.

Water scarcity is a major issue for rainfed agriculture, which uses 75% of all agricultural water. Rain-fed agriculture is at the mercy of two things: rain and the capacity of soil to capture and store that rain. While farmers can't do much to make it rain, they can do a lot to retain rainfall in the soil. The rainfall that infiltrates and remains in the soil--also called green water--is the largest fresh water resource and the basis of rain-fed agriculture.

Green water is a very important resource for global food production. About 60% of the world staple food production relies on … green water. The entire meat production from grazing relies on green water, and so does the production of wood from forestry. In Sub-Saharan Africa almost the entire food production depends on green water (the relative importance of irrigation is minor) and most of the industrial products, such as cotton, tobacco, wood, etc. (link)

Payments to farmers in the developing world are one opportunity to improve water management, while at the same time alleviating poverty and ensuring the flow of ecosystem goods and services like flood control and healthy soil. Modest measures like mulching, conservation tillage, and small-scale water harvesting can increase infiltration by as much as 2-3 fold. Other methods include terracing, contouring and micro-basins that also increase green water and reduce run-off. You'd think that development agencies would be clamoring to invest in these simple but effective techniques, but...

Green water is ignored by engineers because they can't pipe or pump it, by economists because they can't price it, and by governments because they can't tax it. (link)

(26 May 2006)
See original for links.


Salon on climate change

David Roberts, Gristmill
Salon has a mini-package of stories today on climate change.

The first thing that drew my eye was "Play Paul Revere," which promised "five simple ways individuals can fight global warming." I braced myself for the insipid boilerplate "change a light bulb!" chipperness. But to my immense surprise and gratification, three of the five have to do with engaging your community and your culture. Vote. Donate your time and money. And talk about it with people you know.

Official Gristmill Kudos to author Tracy Clark-Flory for keeping it real.

Also of interest, Katharine Mieszkowski takes a long, careful look at carbon offsets...
(26 May 2006)


Al Gore in NYC

Arthur Smith, WorldChanging
Last night's "Wired Town Hall on the Climate Crisis" was a forum with Al Gore, global warming scientist James Hansen, and film producers Laurie David and Laurence Bender, moderated by John Hockenberry of Wired magazine, all introduced by Wired Editor Chris Anderson.

...He talked about the crisis as a challenge to our moral imagination, a radical transformation of the relationship between humans and our planet. Nothing in our prior history and culture prepare us for this new reality - we never before had the ability to do lasting harm.

And he talked about something else that has made all this worse: the emergence of a "new public philosophy that discounts the future consequences of present actions" - we see it in the market place with emphasis on short-term results, in politics with overnight polling, in the media everywhere - news has devolved to reflect the long-standing mantra of local editors: "if it bleeds it leads, if it thinks it sinks". This short-term approach is not conducive to the need we have on the climate issue.

Gore called this all a "bizarre manifestations of a very destructive pattern", and likened our actions to "operating the planet like a business in liquidation".

...Gore summarized the situation with 5 points:

* global warming is real
* humans are principally responsible
* it is not both good and bad: the bad far outweighs the good
* we need to fix it
* it is not too late, we have time

..."But I know something about the political system that some people in science don't know. The political system is nonlinear - it can appear to move at a snail's pace, but then it can cross a tipping point and shift into a completely new path." Gore sees a solution to the climate crisis in the potential for a major political change as the American people respond to the challenge.
(26 May 2006)
Good coverage of speeches by Gore and climate scientist James Hansen, as well as a panel discussion.

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