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Bulldozing the Bottom of the Sea

Editorial, Toronto Star via Common Dreams
It is a wonderfully clear expression, used by a U.S. biologist about the impact of bottom trawling. “Imagine using a bulldozer to catch songbirds for food — that’s what it’s like,” marine biologist Sylvia Earle says. “After a trawler has gone by, it looks like a superhighway, it’s just flat. Nobody’s home. A few fish may swim in and out but the residents, those that occupy the substrate, they’re just smothered, they’re crushed. It’s like paving them over.”

Perhaps it is the kind of comparison we should consider more often — after all, the oceans have been a case of out of sight, out of mind for far too long. We’ve dumped our sewage into the sea for generations, and have used it to dispose of everything from offshore drilling fluid to munitions.

We have dragged bottom trawls back and forth across it so many times that it is — as it was earlier this year — a small miracle when scientists actually find an untouched area of bottom corals.

We have continued to believe that the greatest harm to the sea has been the fishing vessels that bob on the surface, and their ever-shrinking catches. But we regularly draw the line at questioning the role of our methods of fishing.
(5 June 2006)

Climate Change: The View From the Patio

Henry Fountain, NY Times
SCIENTISTS had some sobering news last week about the potential impact of climate change, and it didn’t come from the foot of a shrinking glacier in Alaska or the shores of a tropical resort where the rising ocean is threatening the beachfront bar.

It came from a North Carolina forest, at an experimental plot where scientists can precisely control the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. Duke researchers discovered that when exposed to higher levels of CO2, the greenhouse gas released in ever-increasing quantities from human activity, poison ivy goes haywire.

The researchers found that the weedlike plant grew much faster under CO2 conditions similar to those projected for the middle of the century. The plant also produced a more noxious form of its rash-causing chemical: a more poisonous poison ivy.
(4 June 2006)

Canadian mayors to go it alone on Kyoto

Michelle Lalonde, CanWest News Service via Vancouver Sun
MONTREAL — Canada’s mayors will not let Prime Minister Steven Harper walk away from Canada’s international commitments on climate change without a fight, and like their counterparts in the United States, Canada’s mayors intend to work toward the goals of the Kyoto Protocol.

At its annual meeting in Montreal Saturday, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, representing 1,400 municipal leaders across Canada, adopted a policy statement supporting Canada’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.
(4 June 2006)

Widening tropics ‘will drive deserts into Europe’

Geoffrey Lean, The Independent
The world’s tropical zones are growing, threatening to drive the world’s great deserts into southern Europe and other heavily populated areas, alarming new research suggests.

The study – based on satellite measurements over the past quarter of a century – shows that the tropics have widened by 140 miles since 1979. Scientists suspect that global warming is to blame.

Up to now the most startling evidence that the world is heating up has come from the poles where ice sheets have disintegrated, sea ice shrunk, and glaciers started racing towards the sea. But new research published in the journal Science suggests that equally dramatic changes are under way in the hottest parts of the planet.

“It’s a big deal,” says Professor Thomas Reicher of the University of Utah, one of the authors of the study. “The movement has taken place over both hemispheres, indicating that the tropics have been widening. This may be a totally new aspect of climate change.”

The zones immediately outside the tropics are often very dry – containing many of the world’s great deserts – and these are also expected to move towards the poles as part of the tropical shift.

The scientists believe that this may explain the recent droughts in southern Europe and the south-western United States. They say that if the process continues it could move the deserts into heavily populated areas, with devastating results.
(4 Jun 2006)