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Environment - May 31

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Poison Ivy Getting Meaner (with global warming)

Health Day News via Forbes
An annoying consequence of global warming could be a dramatic increase in the amount of poison ivy and its ability to cause allergic reactions, researchers report.

About 80 percent of people develop an allergic reaction to poison ivy that includes an itchy rash and blisters, caused by skin contact with the oily sap -- or resin -- of the plant. As the virulence of the plant increases due to global warming from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, even more people will be susceptible, the researchers suggest.

"Under atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02) concentrations that the whole planet will reach by the middle of this century, poison ivy grows not only faster and bigger, but also more poisonous," said study lead author Jacqueline E. Mohan, a post-doctoral scientist at the Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, at Woods Hole, Mass.

Only humans and some apes are allergic to poison ivy, Mohan noted. But with carbon dioxide levels increasing, Mohan suspects the plant's growth rate and virulence are already on the rise.

"It makes the forest an even scarier place," Mohan said. "But not just forest -- backyards too. Poison ivy is a remarkable plant. It can grow just about anywhere."

The study findings appear in this week's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(30 May 2006)
Related articles in :
Nature
National Geographic)


Canada agrees to next step in Kyoto

Canadian Press via Globe & Mail
Ottawa — Canada has agreed to negotiate a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, dispelling concerns that the Conservative government would try to block progress at a major climate conference in Bonn.

Richard Kinley, acting head of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, hailed the international consensus at a final news conference Friday from Germany.

"The group agreed last night on an ambitious agenda for their negotiating process which should result in the adoption of new emissions-reduction targets for industrialized countries within the next few years," he said.
(26 May 2006)


USA TODAY series on Global Warming

Bob Swanson and Doyle Rice, USA Today
There seems to be a lot of interest in climate change these days. In the USA TODAY this week, we are running a series of stories on climate change, including "The Thawing of Alaska," "Water Worries in the West," and "Flower Power" in today's edition.

I'm currently in the midst of a couple of popular books on climate change, Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, Eugene Linden's The Winds of Change, and Michael Crichton's State of Fear. Of course, the documentary that focuses on Al Gore's environmental evangelism, An Inconvenient Truth, is in theaters now.

Even the man who made "Isn't that convenient?" a catch phrase with his "Church Lady" character on Saturday Night Live is using global warming in his act. I caught Dana Carvey's appearance last week on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He did an impression of Al Gore, which was mediocre, but his best line was something to the effect that "the ozone layer has more holes in it than one of Dick Cheney's hunting partners." It should be pointed out here that ozone depletion, while a global concern, is not synonymous with climate change or global warming
(30 May 2006)


The Greener Guys (U.S. business & global warming)

Jad Mouawad
...Americans are increasingly recognizing that the effects of carbon emissions on global warming are a serious problem, but there are no rules in the United States regulating heat-trapping gases comparable to those that most other developed countries have adopted under the Kyoto Protocol. Some United States businesses, though, are responding for a variety of reasons anyway: to satisfy customers or shareholders who worry about the environment, to improve their public image or to drive down their energy costs. In addition, some states and local authorities have stepped in to try to curb their contributions to global warming.

For Timberland, while it shares the concerns over global warming, it's mostly a matter of dollars and cents. As Mr. Swartz put it: "What idiot will leave costs on the table? I hope it's our competitors. I get paid to create value."

But reducing carbon emissions is no easy task.

Scientists, economists, environmentalists and a growing rank of business leaders warn that corporate America needs to move more quickly or it will face the consequences: higher energy prices, a potential cost for carbon pollution and, eventually, products that will have trouble competing globally because other countries are reducing emissions.

The United States is responsible for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide sent into the atmosphere each year. It has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty on climate change that went into effect last year for more than three dozen countries in Europe and elsewhere, that set targets and timetables for cutting emissions.

If consumption of fossil fuels continues at today's pace, the Energy Department predicts that carbon emissions in the United States could rise to more than eight billion tons by 2030 — 38 percent above current levels — as energy use keeps growing.
(30 May 2006)


You Control Climate Change - Or Do You?

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
The EU's new anti-global warming campaign, You Control Climate Change, launched Monday. The focus is on individual action ("Turn down. Switch off. Recycle. Walk."):

The 50 practical tips included in the campaign range from turning off lights, recycling materials and not using cars. Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the campaign highlighted individual responsibility. The campaign also targets pupils, who will be encouraged to sign a pledge to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. EU member states will be launching the campaign at national level over the next few days.

Now, on the one hand, this is great news, with national climate action campaigns unfolding across Europe. This will no doubt raise awareness of need for action on the issue. It may as well get individuals to make real steps towards going climate neutral in their own lives.

But it is important that efforts not stop there. For one thing, individuals are responsible for only a fraction of greenhouse gas emissions --

Households are responsible for around 15% of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions. Private car use accounts for another 10%.

-- and it is not always possible for individuals to change those systems which commit them to even these emissions (as we discussed when covering Ford's new carbon offest programs). Obviously, we all want to do what we can, but most of the changes that need to be made are systemic -- they involve political action, engineering breakthroughs, market creation, design innovation and cultural change. We can, and should, each be part of helping this larger transformation unfold, but none of us can, in our own lives and on our own, create a bright green future.

To do that, we have to work together.

(Thanks, Lorenzo)
(30 May 2006)


Ecological Handprints: Population and the Limits of Possibility

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
Population, in some ways, is the critical wild card in our efforts to win the Great Wager, stave off ecological collapse and build a bright green future.

On the one hand, its clear as day that building individual livelihoods that provide prosperity and a high quality of life yet whose ecological footprints are small enough to be globally sustainable is possible. Only a very few yet live those lives, and much work remains to be done before they can be available to all, but there is no doubt that one planet living is within our abilities.

On the other hand, population growth makes one-planet living a moving target: the more people there are, the more our share of the planet shrinks, after all, and the harder it becomes to distribute those sustainable technologies and practices to everyone.

This is part of what has lead some to conclude that we cannot achieve sustainability without drastic reductions in human populations (and the means of such "reductions" are rarely addressed, which tends to leave a sour taste in the mouth before the discussion's even begun, suffering as we are from the hangover of a century where genocide and ethnic cleansing were appallingly common)...

[We should be asking outselves a] critical question: Whether or not the planet needs us to have footprints smaller than "one planet"? And are such lives possible?

Why not? If we can imagine going climate negative, why can't we imagine shrinking our ecological footprint until we zip past having any negative net ecological impact at all, until the operation of our daily lives heals the planet instead of hurts it? Until we transform, as I've said before, our ecological footprints into ecological handprints?

Designing such a world would be more challenging, that's for sure. But challenging does not equal impossible. Indeed, no law of physics declares that the operation of our lives must degrade the environment.
(30 May 2006)

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