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Pine Beetles May Affect Climate Change – Study

Maggie Fox, Reuters via Planet Ark
Mountain pine beetles that are destroying forests along much of the Rocky Mountain range are doing so much damage that they may affect climate change, Canadian researchers reported on Wednesday.

The damage is nearly equivalent to the polluting effects of forest fires, they report in the journal Nature.

… Usually, a forest is a carbon “sink,” soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise affect the atmosphere and help hold in heat.

The beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, changed that. Dead trees release carbon as they rot, and of course fail to use carbon dioxide as they would if alive.

“This impact converted the forest from a small net carbon sink to a large net carbon source both during and immediately after the outbreak,” the researchers wrote.
(24 April 2008)

Up the Yangtze: Documentary Takes on Social Impact of Three Gorges Dam in China
(transcript, audio, video)
Democracy Now
The Three Gorges Dam along China’s Yangtze River is the world’s largest hydroelectric project and is due to be completed in 2009. Widely touted as a feat of modern engineering, the dam was supposed to stop flooding along the river and provide clean energy to fuel China’s economic boom. But it has also gained notoriety as an environmental and human catastrophe. Up the Yangtze is a critically acclaimed new documentary about the social impact of the Three Gorges Dam. We speak with Chinese Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang.
(24 April 2008)

Three Planetary Futures

Alan Weisman, Vanity Fair
The rapid pace of environmental change threatens to drastically transform our world. What might the future look like? Alan Weisman, best-selling author of The World Without Us, peers ahead 50 to 100 years to construct plausible scenarios for three widely divergent ecosystems, and the people who inhabit them.

I: Las Vegas, Nevada

By the late 2020s, something had to give, and it ended up being Las Vegas. With rainfall and snowpack in the Rockies steadily dwindling in a drying climate, the Lake Mead reservoir was no longer filling-meaning that turbines weren’t spinning, electricity wasn’t generating, and some 25 million downstream users in places like California were howling for what little precious water remained trapped behind the lower sections of the Hoover Dam. Nevada’s last gasp was a plea for Denver’s Colorado River allotment: Denver, it was argued, in turn could take the Nebraska and Kansas share of the Platte River, because those states could recharge their depleted Ogallala Aquifer by siphoning water from the Mississippi, and so on ever eastward. But this grand cascade scheme collapsed under dire predictions of astronomical engineering costs and threats of internecine, even armed, water warfare among various states jealously guarding whichever of the nation’s great drainage basins lay beneath them.

So the Hoover’s spillways were opened, and what remained of the Colorado trickled off to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Mexico (which had sworn to cut off tributaries to the Rio Grande if it didn’t receive a share). The glittering southern Nevada town named for its vegas-meadows of sacaton grass that once grew around artesian springs burbling up from surrounding mountains, until they were pumped dry-had also tried piping in water from ranches as far as 250 miles to the north. But those wells, too, succumbed to deepening drought. Finally, by the mid-2030s, what had been America’s fastest-growing city at the turn of the 21st century just gave up. …

II: Cairo, Egypt

The ancient name of Egypt’s first Arab capital, Misr al-Fustat, means “City of Tents”-and in 2108, Cairo has come full circle. A century earlier, it was already a city of 17 million residents piled atop one another in high-rises crammed into the narrow floodplain of the Nile, at the point just before the river’s huge delta begins to spread northward to the Mediterranean. Now, the capacity of those high-rises has been overwhelmed by the greatest influx of refugees in human history. Most of the 40 million or so people pressing against the pyramids will never leave here. With Egypt’s housing authority effectively stymied, so-called temporary shelters of heat-reflective polymer sheeting provided by U.N.H.C.R.-the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, lately the world’s most thinly stretched bureaucracy-will be their permanent fate.

… Egypt, despite its own impoverished hordes, was far wealthier than most other African countries, so the refugees dissolved into Cairo’s tenement warrens, which somehow always seemed able to absorb more. That wealth, however, derived mainly from the enormous, fan-shaped Nile Delta, spanning 150 miles where it met the sea-that is, until the sea started creeping inland. Once, the delta produced more food than anywhere else on the continent, and was one of the planet’s most densely populated agricultural areas, home to 35 million people, mostly rural fellahin. But by 2108, the Mediterranean has already encroached nearly 10 miles south of its former shoreline, leaving the seaport of Alexandria, at the delta’s western edge, perched at the end of a dike-enclosed peninsula. Yet just as frightening as that re-drawn geography is the menace advancing annually beneath the surface, through the water table.

Each year, rising salinity leaves more formerly rich delta bottomland useless for the wheat, rice, bananas, cotton, corn, lentils, melons, tomatoes, and vegetables that once abounded here. In fields covered with a glaze of evaporated brine, agricultural agencies now plant salt-tolerant pickleweed. …

III: Nanisivik, Baffin Island

Back in 1993, when Canada agreed to divide its vast Northwest Territories, which stretched from the Yukon to the Atlantic, to give the Inuit their own semi-autonomous region called Nunavut, the move was regarded as a huge gesture of reparations to aboriginal peoples, but not a big deal to most other Canadians: who else wanted to live in treeless Arctic tundra?

But nobody back then had any idea how quickly the summer Arctic sea ice would disappear. From 2005 to 2007 alone, fully a quarter of North Polar ice-once so solid it may as well have been a landmass like Antarctica-simply vanished. What remained was barely five feet thick: half what was normal. Just six years later-in 2013-the so-called Arctic Grail that so many explorers famously froze to death trying to find had become a reality: an ice-free Northwest Passage between Europe and Asia, 4,500 miles shorter than crossing via the Panama Canal.
(21 April 2008)
Contributor CP writes:
A riff on water, using themes borrowed from peak oil, like “the era of easy water is ending”.