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Big food companies accused of risking climate catastrophe

John Vidal, Guardian
The rush to palm oil and biofuels threatens to release 14 billion tonnes of carbon from Indonesia’s peatlands

Many of the largest food and fuel companies risk climate change disaster by driving the demand for palm oil and biofuels grown on the world’s greatest peat deposits, a report will say today.

Unilever, Cargill, Nestlé, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, as well as all leading UK supermarkets, are large users of Indonesian palm oil, much of which comes from the province of Riau in Sumatra, where an estimated 14.6bn tonnes of carbon – equivalent to nearly one year’s entire global carbon emissions – is locked up in the world’s deepest peat beds.

More than 1.4m hectares of virgin forest in Riau has already been converted to plantations to provide cooking oil, but a further 3m hectares is planned to be turned to biofuels, says the Greenpeace report

Carbon is released when virgin forests are felled and the swampy peatlands are drained to provide plantation land. The peat decomposes and is broken down by bacteria and the land becomes vulnerable to fires which often smoulder and release greenhouse gases for decades.

If the peatlands continue to be destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, this will significantly add to global climate change emissions, the report says. Nearly half of Indonesia’s 22m hectares of peatland has already been cleared and drained, resulting in it having the third-highest man-made carbon emissions, after the US and China. Destruction of its peatlands already accounts for nearly 4% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
(8 November 2007)

Climate change said to be a public health issue

Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters
Climate change should be treated as a public health issue, especially by the United States, the world’s biggest long-term emitter of greenhouse gases, health and ecology experts said on Tuesday.

An Earth transformed by climate change could lead to more climate-related diseases, especially those transmitted by insects and those borne by water supplies, the experts said at a meeting of the American Public Health Association.

The United States and other rich countries bear special responsibility because their climate-warming emissions will have a disproportionate impact on poor countries that emit the least and have the fewest resources to deal with public health problems, said Jonathan Patz of the University of Wisconsin.
(6 November 2007)
EB contributor Dan Bednarz also spoke at the conference about peak oil: Preparedness for what? Comparing terrorism and peak oil.

Mum’s the Word: We Found a Greener Gas

Claudia H. Deutsch, New York Times
PSYCHOLOGISTS and Wall Street traders have long known it: people and markets act on perception, whether it clashes with reality or not.

Which means that sellers of cold foods may soon have a public relations problem on their hands.

Hydrofluorocarbons, better known as HFCs, have been the refrigerants of choice since their predecessor, chlorofluorocarbons, were proved to hurt the ozone layer. But refrigeration equipment can leak, and HFCs are a powerful greenhouse gas. So Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and other companies are switching to another gas to keep their vending machines, trucks and in-store freezers and soda machines cold.

That gas is carbon dioxide. Thus the perception problem.

Thanks to the language of climate change — “carbon offsets,” “carbon neutral,” “carbon intensive,” “carbon tax” and the like — most people think carbon dioxide is far and away the worst, if not the only, greenhouse gas around. But pound for pound, HFCs, among other gases, are far more potent when it comes to trapping the earth’s heat. So using carbon dioxide in place of HFCs in refrigeration equipment poses less environmental risk.

CO2 as a good thing? Even Martha Stewart might have trouble explaining that.

“Really understanding this issue requires a level of scientific knowledge and sophistication that is beyond most people,” said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which spearheaded Refrigerants Naturally, an industry coalition that has been exploring alternatives to HFCs for several years.

The result, marketing experts warn, could be reputation chaos.
(7 November 2007)
The full article has interesting ideas about presenting ideas to the public.

Earth’s Temperature Tracker: James Hansen

David Herring, Earth Observatory (NASA)
High-quality biography of the noted climate scientist and advocate for action on climate change. The original is long, with nice graphics and an explanation of Hansen’s science.
(5 November 2007)

Online James Lovelock talk: Climate change on the living Earth

James Lovelock, The Royal Society
Observations from around the Earth suggest that even the gloomiest predictions of climate change from the 2007 IPCC report may underestimate the seriousness of the changes due this century. In this lecture, Professor James Lovelock will discuss the consequences, particularly for the UK and Europe, and how we might respond by an adaptive retreat whilst at the same time seeking a global solution to what seem to be ineluctable adverse changes in the Earth’s climate.
(29 October 2007)
Contributor James Stresen-Reuter writes:
An hour well worth spending with one of the most insightful of scientists.
Climate – Nov