Climate - Sept 2
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Greek forest fires could be CO2 threat
Robin Pomeroy, Reuters
Greece's huge forest fires have been blamed by some on global warming, but satellite images of smoke plumes drifting as far as Africa prompt the question: are forests a major source of greenhouse gas?
Usually it is cars, factories and power stations that are most often mentioned as sources of carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas which traps heat in the atmosphere. Trees, considered the "lungs of the planet", soak the gas up. But what if they burn?
"Global emissions from deforestation and the degradation of forests are the second single source after coal," said Stefan Singer of WWF (the World Wildlife Fund).
Every year 13 million hectares of the world's forests disappear -- an area the size of Greece -- according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation which says deforestation accounts for 18 percent of CO2 emissions.
Although paling in significance next to deforestation in the Amazon, Congo and Indonesia, forest fires in the Mediterranean might also be a net source of emissions, experts said.
(2 September 2007)
Climate change ticks ever closer
Hannah Hoag, Toronto Star
On the Leslie St. spit, signs of global warming are being picked right from the feathers of migratory birds. And the ticks now spreading north carry with them the spectre of Lyme disease
..."The number of cases of Lyme disease have been fairly low in Canada, until recently," says Nicholas Ogden, an expert in tick-borne diseases at the Université de Montréal in Quebec and a researcher at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Since the 1970s, parts of the United States have suffered an epidemic of Lyme disease, mostly within the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central states.
In the United States, approximately 20,000 new cases are reported each year. The disease - which causes fever, headaches and can spread to the heart and nervous system if untreated - is rarely reported in Canada, but ranks among the top bug-borne diseases in the United States.
Ten years ago, eastern Canada had only two known populations of Ixodes scapularis, commonly known as the eastern blacklegged tick. Today, there are 13 or 14, says Ogden.
"It's not that those two have spread out, but that there are new ones bobbling up," he says.
They tend to settle in migratory bird landfalls, resource-rich chunks of land near large bodies of water.
...Canada's cooler climate once offered protection from the diseases of warmer regions. But as climate change brings milder winters, scientists worry that the ticks - formerly limited by the cold - may move farther north.
"Insects are cold-blooded - air temperature determines body temperature," says Jonathan Patz, Director of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The warmer air temperature can make it easier for the insect to survive the Canadian winter. It can also speed up the rate at which it develops.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, should greenhouse gas emissions remain high, average summer temperatures in southern Ontario are expected to be 4 to 5 degrees Celsius warmer and average winter temperatures about 6 degrees Celsius warmer before the end of the century.
"All the biological processes that are going on require a certain amount of heat," says Ogden. "If it is very cold, those processes are very slow or will stop altogether."
"When people say why should we worry about a half-degree of warming, it means everything to a mosquito carrying dengue or West Nile virus. It means do you have infectious mosquitoes after 10 days or three weeks?" says Patz.
(1 September 2007)
Al Gore, James Hansen, and Civil Disobedience
Gordon Clark, ZNet
In his recent global warming op-ed in the New York Times ("The Big Melt," August 16, 2007) , Nicholas Kristof reported on a conversation with Al Gore in which the former Vice-President said: "I can't understand why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers, and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants." His comment was a reaction to the ever- quickening pace of polar ice meltoff, with all its catastrophic implications, and the huge role played by coal-fired power plants in advancing our demise through global warming.
Gore's comment was also strikingly similar to a recent quote from Dr. James Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA: "It seems to me that young people, especially, should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty (no CCS) coal-fired power plants."
What does it mean when one of the top scientific leaders ringing the alarm on global warming, along with a top political leader, both suggest, in so many words, nonviolent direct action (or civil disobedience) to confront the challenge of climate change?
Clearly both men must realize the importance of nonviolent resistance in social change efforts of this magnitude and agree, if only subconsciously, with historian Howard Zinn's observation that "Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy. It is absolutely essential to it." (Dr. Hansen, for his part, goes on to quote the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution at some length.)
Gore and Hansen must both know that nonviolent direct action has been a significant catalyst in nearly every major social change movement in U.S. (and world) history, starting in this country with the Boston Tea Party and extending through the anti-slavery, woman's suffrage, labor rights, civil rights, environmental and anti-war movements. ...
Gordon Clark is the convener of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, www.iraqpledge.org
(1 September 2007)
NASA Scientists Challenge Security Rules
Dave Lindorff, The Nation
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center are up in arms over a new requirement by NASA that they submit to detailed FBI scrutiny of their backgrounds in order to obtain clearance to go to work. They are claiming that the agency may be trying to control or silence them about issues like global warming.
The new security clearance requirement, which involves interviews of neighbors and checks into the distant background activities of scientists, many of whom have worked at JPL and Goddard for as long as thirty years, is puzzling because both locations have little or no involvement in secret or national security research. Indeed, by law, NASA's activities and the research its scientists engage in are required to be publicly available.
"Almost nobody at NASA does classified work," says Robert Nelson, a veteran scientist at JPL who heads up the photo analysis unit on the Cassini-Huygens space probe project exploring Saturn and its moons. "I think this is really all about NASA director [Michael] Griffin putting a security wrap around us."
Nelson and 26 other JPL scientists and other employees have retained a Pasadena civil rights law firm to file suit in federal court in California to block the security program.
Attorney Dan Stormer a partner at Hadsell & Stormer, who with Virginia Keeney, is handling the case, says he will be requesting a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the program. A hearing is set for September 24. (To date, Nelson says as many as 20 percent of JPL's 5,000 employees have refused to fill out the security forms, though those who haven't been investigated and received their badges risk being barred from the site after that deadline.)
"This campaign is an egregious invasion of privacy," says Stormer. "These are people who aren't in classified jobs and who don't handle classified information, yet if they don't submit to these investigations, they'll lose their jobs."
Stormer adds, "This is a classic Bush case of controlling information, and I'm sure the information JPL and Goddard are gathering about global warming has a lot to do with it. Do I have the evidence to prove that? No. But I think we'll find it in this lawsuit."
Others at JPL agree with Stormer's analysis of what lies behind the order.
(30 August 2007)