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Japan tries to cut down on plastic bags

Hiroko Tabuchi, Associated Press via Yahoo!News
TOKYO – Buy lunch and a magazine at any Japanese convenience store, and you’re likely to get your drink in one plastic bag, hot lunch box in another, and your magazine in yet a third.

The mega-packaging keeps your food hot, your drink cool and your newspaper clean, but environmentalists say it also creates a mountain of plastic waste that fouls the air, pollutes the oceans and contributes to global warming.

The world uses between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags a year, according to the advocacy Web site, Wrapping-happy Japan is a major player, consuming some 30 billion — about 300 for each adult.
(10 June 2006; HT Graeme,

Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow

Keith Bradsher and David Barboza, NY TImes via ClimateArk

One of China’s lesser-known exports is a dangerous brew of soot, toxic chemicals and climate-changing gases from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants.

In early April, a dense cloud of pollutants over Northern China sailed to nearby Seoul, sweeping along dust and desert sand before wafting across the Pacific. An American satellite spotted the cloud as it crossed the West Coast.

…Unless China finds a way to clean up its coal plants and the thousands of factories that burn coal, pollution will soar both at home and abroad. The increase in global-warming gases from China’s coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks.

…Already, China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. And it has increased coal consumption 14 percent in each of the past two years in the broadest industrialization ever. Every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego.

To make matters worse, India is right behind China in stepping up its construction of coal-fired power plants and has a population expected to outstrip China’s by 2030.

Aware of the country’s growing reliance on coal and of the dangers from burning so much of it, China’s leaders have vowed to improve the nation’s energy efficiency. No one thinks that effort will be enough.

…Indeed, China is using subsidies to make its energy even cheaper, a strategy that is not unfamiliar to Americans, said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China specialist at the University of Michigan. “They have done in many ways,” he said, “what we have done.”

(11 June 2006; HT Waegari,
Long article. Also at Wilmington Star News

Top 100 ecological questions from UK policy makers

Walter Derzko, Smart Economy
It’s often good to sit back, pause and contemplate what you know that you don’t know…a higher order thinking excercise for sure !

Last week, environmental policy makers came up with a list of the “top 100” ecological questions most in need of an answer.

The list, published online in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology, is the result of an innovative experiment involving more than 600 environmental policy makers and academics, and includes crucial questions such as which UK habitats and species might be lost completely due to climate change, and what are the comparative biodiversity impacts of newly emerging types of renewable energy?

The list should help bridge the gap between science and policy that exists in many disciplines – including ecology – and could therefore have a major impact on future ecological research and its funding.
(12 June 2006)
100 important questions. -AF

Global warming could make Canada an agricultural powerhouse while the U.S. becomes a dustbowl

LiveScience via Smart Economy
Studies have shown that global warming is acting fastest at the most northern latitudes, resulting in longer growing seasons. The change is also alleviating winter cold stress without imposing summer heat stress.

“Spring is coming earlier and fall is coming later,” said study co-author Christina Holzapfel, a biologist at the University of Oregon. “The conditions that you experience in the North are becoming way more like you’d expect them in the South.”…

The shift could also have large economic impact, particularly related to agriculture.

“Corn does not currently grow in central or northern Canada because the growing season is not long enough,” Bradshaw said. “With increased growing season, the Canadians will be able to grow more corn.”

Although the northward shift of the long growing season could be a boon to Canadian farmers, it could also spell disaster for their American counterparts.

“The United States is going to be a dustbowl as the agricultural belt moves north,” Holzapfel said. “We are already seeing this in the massive droughts in Africa.”
(12 June 2006)
This analysis does not take into account the greater extremes of weather predicted by greenhouse models. A late frost or large storm can cause massive damage to crop yields. -AF

Book Review: Big Coal – The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future

Jeff McIntire, treehugger
While many writers may be capable of gathering mountains of facts on the role the coal industry plays in contemporary American life, and stringing them together into a coherent narrative, fewer likely have the ability to turn those facts into an engaging book that a reader literally can not put down. Jeff Goodell, a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone and the New York Times Magazine, has done just that in his new book Big Coal: The Dirty Secrets Behind America’s Energy Future.

Goodell proves that he’s a meticulous researcher in this book, but the incredible stories he tells as he examines the role of coal in American growth over the past century and Chinese growth in the coming one make Big Coal a genuine page-turner — no small feat in a non-fiction examination of an industry that many Americans probably consider a part of a bygone era. Goodell shares the experiences of miners, utility executives and global warming activists, and aptly demonstrates that coal still affects American lives in the most mundane, and the most dramatic, fashions.

I honed in on the phrase “the empire of denial” in Goodell’s epilogue, and that’s essentially how “Big Coal” is characterized through the book: in denial of not only the human and environmental costs of their product, but also about the inevitable waning of this energy source even as it’s seeing a renewal of interest in the US. A few executives tied in with coal production, primarily in the big utility companies, recognize that regulation of CO2 is coming, and think it’s in their best interest to get ahead of the curve by, at the very least, investing in new power plants that incorporate coal gasification and carbon sequestration technologies. By and large, though, the big utilities are building old-school dirty coal-burning plants (such as one going up just south of Nashville, Illinois) as quickly as possible to make a quick buck before regulation becomes a fact of life and requires the coal industry to internalize the costs of the big polluting plants.
(9 June 2006)