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Huge study documents changes from climate warming

Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
A landmark new climate study released today reports that global warming is already changing the life cycles of thousands of animals and plants – as well as hundreds of physical systems – worldwide.

It documents rapid glacier melts in North America, South America and Europe; trees and plants sprouting leaves much earlier in the spring in Europe, Asia and North America; permafrost melting in Asia; and changes in bird migration patterns across Europe, North America and Australia, all in response to rising global temperatures.

While previous studies have looked at single phenomena or smaller areas, this is a new analysis on a continental scale looking at data that had not been previously assembled together in one spot, says lead author Cynthia Rosenzweig, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

By analyzing data from each of the Earth’s seven continents and the oceans, the study paints a clear picture of a world that’s been undergoing rapid transformation in just the past few decades due to climate change.
(14 May 2008)

A Climate Change Industrial Policy

Miriam Pemberton, Foreign Policy in Focus
… Another looming threat has also caught the military’s attention, namely the security implications of climate change. As early as 1997, the CIA set up an Environmental Center that examined the degradation of land and water as a major source of armed conflict around the world. Such niche efforts within the U.S. security establishment have now gone mainstream. Last year the Pentagon commissioned a group of high-level retired officers, including Marine General Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, to study the issue. Its report, published by the CNA Corporation, a Pentagon-funded think tank, called climate change a dangerous “threat multiplier” producing resource wars and failed states.

Most recently the royal United Services Institute, a leading UK defense think tank, released a report underscoring these concerns. It called the world’s response to date “slow and inadequate” and added that “climate impacts will force us into a radical rethink of how we identify and secure our national interests.”

On a conventional battlefield, when generals perceive a new threat emerging on, say, their right flank, they will naturally pivot their forces to confront it. Tackling the security threat of climate change will require immediate and drastic reductions of our greenhouse emissions. This will take, among other things, a lot of money. If the security threat is as great as the military now says it is, it will be necessary to pivot substantial resources to address it.

The military has so far not followed the logic of its threat analysis to this conclusion.

Miriam Pemberton is peace and security editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. She is the author of the January 2008 report, “The Budgets Compared: Military vs. Climate Security.”
(14 May 2008)

Water-Cooled Supercomputer Set to Study Climate

Christopher Joyce, NPR
IBM has designed a supercomputer that is water-cooled. It’s the first one in the United States, and it is destined for scientists working on models of how climate is likely to change regional weather patterns – one of the most demanding problems in the climate science world.
(9 May 2008)

Are Myanmar’s Storm Victims Suffering Needlessly?

Ben Block, WorldWatch Institute
As the floodwaters of Cyclone Nargis began to recede from Myanmar’s low-lying Irrawaddy Delta this week, at least one regional leader was quick to note that this devastating disaster could have been partially prevented through better coastal management.

Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), mentioned in an address in Singapore that expanding coastal populations and widespread mangrove degradation played key roles in worsening the cyclone’s impact. Much of the damage from the cyclone was caused by storm surge, powerful waves whipped up by the high winds.

“The mangrove forests, which used to serve as buffer between the rising tide, between big waves and storms and the residential area… all those lands have been destroyed,” Agence France-Presse reported him saying. “Human beings are now direct victims of such natural forces.”

Mangrove forests, salt-tolerant trees and shrubs found mainly in intertidal areas of the tropics, provide critical breeding grounds and habitat for many plants and animals, including several high-value fish species. Ever since the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand, mangroves have received greater attention for their potential role in protecting coastlines against storm surges. But their role as coastal guardians – including in places like the Irrawaddy Delta – is still disputed within the scientific community.

Of the 100,000 people who Myanmar officials say have perished or face imminent death if they do not receive humanitarian aid in the wake of the May 2 cyclone, many had lived in areas once covered with mangrove forests. Myanmar is home to some of the largest remaining forested areas in Southeast Asia. However, the government junta often encourages citizens to convert mangrove forests into shrimp aquaculture facilities or rice fields. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that Myanmar lost about 9 percent of its mangrove forests – 48,500 hectares – between 1980 and 2005.
(9 May 2008)
Note the connection between food/economics and climate. -BA