Thursday, October 27, 2005
Nature reports 60 researchers met with policy-makers in Johannesburg last week to discuss adaptation to climate change:
"We urgently need to determine how we can adapt to climate change, and what the most appropriate interventions should be," says zoologist Steven Chown from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Temperatures in Africa have risen up to 1°C in the past century and, even if the emission reductions of greenhouse gases agreed by the Kyoto Protocol are achieved, temperatures could rise a further 2–3 °C by 2050, according to climatologist Bruce Hewitson of the University of Cape Town.Africa and Climate Change
The biggest challenges to African biodiversity will be the increase in temperature, drought, and increased susceptibility to invasive species. Species dependent on reserves may fare poorly.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
|There is an interesting article on whether the US or Europe has been more precautionary published by Hammitt, Wiener, et al. in Risk Analysis, 25: 1215 (October 2005):|
|Precautionary Regulation in Europe and the United States: A Quantitative Comparison|
Much attention has been addressed to the question of whether Europe or the United States adopts a more precautionary stance to the regulation of potential environmental, health, and safety risks. Some commentators suggest that Europe is more risk-averse and precautionary, whereas the United States is seen as more risk-taking and optimistic about the prospects for new technology. Others suggest that the United States is more precautionary because its regulatory process is more legalistic and adversarial, while Europe is more lax and corporatist in its regulations. The flip-flop hypothesis claims that the United States was more precautionary than Europe in the 1970s and early 1980s, and that Europe has become more precautionary since then. We examine the levels and trends in regulation of environmental, health, and safety risks since 1970. Unlike previous research, which has studied only a small set of prominent cases selected nonrandomly, we develop a comprehensive list of almost 3,000 risks and code the relative stringency of regulation in Europe and the United States for each of 100 risks randomly selected from that list for each year from 1970 through 2004. Our results suggest that: (a) averaging over risks, there is no significant difference in relative precaution over the period, (b) weakly consistent with the flip-flop hypothesis, there is some evidence of a modest shift toward greater relative precaution of European regulation since about 1990, although (c) there is a diversity of trends across risks, of which the most common is no change in relative precaution (including cases where Europe and the United States are equally precautionary and where Europe or the United States has been consistently more precautionary). The overall finding is of a mixed and diverse pattern of relative transatlantic precaution over the period.
The Air and Waste Management Association is holding a conference in San Francisco on March 7-9, 2006 on Planning for the Future: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas Inventories, and Clean Energy Linkages. They have issued a call for papers - abstracts due November 14th. Call for Papers The conference will include a number of policy as well as technical topics, including international initiatives; national legislation; local, state, and regional plans; emerging approaches for economic incentives and trading.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Nature reports that:
Researchers from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, based in Copenhagen, are advising that fishing activities in many regions of the world's oceans be reduced to zero for the sake of endangered fish. These creatures include many food species, such as the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) and roundnose grenadier (Coryphaenoides rupestris), but also deepwater sharks that are often snared as by-catch, such as the Portuguese dogfish (Centroscymnus coelolepis). "The only way to do it is to reset the watch," argues Poul Degnbol, chairman of the council's advisory committee on fishery management. "We have to start from a low level and monitor closely. We can only expand when we know what we're doing." Working out how many fish we can take without causing a population crash is a priority for fisheries researchers, adds Holm. And until we have that knowledge, fishing has to be cut back to more modest levels, he argues. "We're kidding ourselves if we think we will ever have a perfect knowledge," he says. "But we're balancing on the edge of the cliff, and it would be much wiser for us just to take a few steps back." Nature article
The ICES is the marine science body that provides advice for North Atlantic fisheries to 19 countries as well as regional and international organizations. The deep seas fishery report is advice given in response to an EU request. ICES Report
From the Deep Sea Coalition:
There is growing concern amongst scientists about the need to take urgent action to protect deep sea biodiversity - fish stocks as well as habitat.
The International Council on the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has prepared a report calling for "a complete overhaul of deep-sea fisheries." (1) According to a 17 October ICES press release about the report's launch (2), "scientists will recommend that all existing deep-sea fisheries should be cutback to low levels until they can demonstrate that they are sustainable. They will advise zero catch of depleted deep-sea sharks, and they will recommend that no new fisheries for deep-sea fish should be allowed until it can be demonstrated that they are capable of being sustainable." According to David Griffith, General Secretary of ICES, "Deep-sea fish such as the orange roughy or the roundnose grenadier are long-lived, slow reproducing fish that can withstand only low levels of fishing pressure. All our evidence indicates that the current fishing pressure on these stocks is much too high. We are particularly concerned about deep-sea sharks such as the Portuguese dogfish and leafscale gulper shark which are now heavily depleted."
"Unfortunately, the ICES recommendations confirm what we have been saying all along: that deep-sea fisheries are in deep, deep trouble," said Karen Sack, Oceans Policy Advisor for Greenpeace International. (3) WWF stepped up the pressure even further, demanding that "EU Fisheries Ministers listen to ICES advice and take urgent action to prevent the total collapse of all deep-sea fish stocks" and called for the closure of all deep sea fisheries. (4) The EU remains the biggest stumbling block with the United Nations General Assembly in efforts to agree on a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.
In the UK, which currently holds the EU Presidency, top marine scientists are also calling for urgent action worldwide. In an open letter signed by 50 leading scientists, Minister Ben Bradshaw was urged to "take advantage of a historical opportunity to secure significant protection for the world's deep-ocean ecosystems on the high seas - the two-thirds of the world's oceans that lie beyond the jurisdiction of any nation. We are calling on you exercise leadership during the UK Presidency of the European Union to negotiate a moratorium on deep-sea bottom trawl fishing on the high seas at the United Nations General Assembly this year." (5)
Minister Bradshaw also received a letter from Sir John Lawton, Chairman of the prestigious Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. (6) Last December, the Royal Commission said that drastic and urgent action was needed to save the marine environment from further destruction by fishing, including the ruinous effects of deep sea bottom trawlers. (7) In his letter to Minister Bradshaw, Sir Lawton said, "Protection of the deep seas, on the basis of sound scientific analysis including the application of precaution, needs to be urgently incorporated into international law. We therefore endorse the call for you to exercise your leadership during the UK Presidency of the European Union to negotiate a moratorium on deep-sea bottom trawl fishing at the United Nations General Assembly this year to protect vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems and species from irreversible damage and loss."
Leading Canadian scientists have also sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. (8) In a speech in May, Mr. Martin called on ministers attending an international high-level fisheries governance conference to "seize this historic occasion, and begin the process to stop the rape of our fisheries and oceans, once and for all. I'm asking you to come together - as a global community - to write the next chapter in the history of the world's fisheries and oceans, and to restore their once-proud place in our cultures, in our nations, and in our lives." The scientists' letter, dated 17 October, called on the Prime Minister to support the high seas moratorium, noting that "it would be in keeping with Canada's national and international commitments to biodiversity protection."
Unfortunately, some governments continue to fight for delays despite the inevitable need to take action. The DSCC has obtained a copy of a position paper apparently being circulated by Japan, which argues amongst other things, ironically, that the call for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling is "without scientific justification." (9) Obviously Japan isn't listening to the wider scientific community.
Fisheries negotiations resume again on 24 October. A DSCC team is present in New York pushing for the moratorium - knowing how strongly scientists feel about this issue has only increased their resolve.
(1) ICES describes itself as "the organisation that coordinates and promotes marine research in the North Atlantic. This includes adjacent seas such as the Baltic Sea and North Sea. ICES acts as a meeting point for a community of more than 1600 marine scientists from 19 countries around the North Atlantic."
(6) Letter in support of the open letter from scientists concerning protection of deep-sea biodiversity from Sir John Lawton, Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 17 October 2005 (pdf)
The Geological Society of America annual meeting had a session on Hurricane Katrina last week: An Eye on Katrina: Geoscience Perspectives on a Catastrophic Hurricane. GSA Katrina Abstracts The session included presentations on the impact of Katrina on Louisiana, Mississippi, barrier islands, Lake Ponchartrain, and gulf coast wetlands as well as some policy oriented comments on coastal protection and management.
Monday, October 24, 2005
The ABA Section on Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources sponsors an Environmental Science teleconference series. If you need a refresher or if you are venturing into scientific ground that you have not trod before, this is an easy way to keep current. Environmental Science Brochure
Friday, October 21, 2005
Roche agrees to license generic versions of its antiviral drug in order to increase production of the drug that may be effective against the bird flu strain currently threatening asia and europe. Licensing
The Economist has a nice summary of the European response to the threat of a bird flu pandemic. European Bird Flu Response
Excerpt from the Economist: European countries are taking emergency measures to contain the spread of a deadly strain of bird flu—which has already led to the deaths of millions of birds and over 60 people in Asia—after its arrival in Russia, Romania, Turkey and possibly Greece. The disease is a serious threat to the world’s sizeable poultry industry but its spread round the globe also increases the chances of it mutating into a form that causes a human pandemic.
THE deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has already led to the deaths of millions of fowl and more than 60 people in Asia since an outbreak began in South Korea in 2003, seems to be spreading around the world, with outbreaks confirmed in Russia, Romania and Turkey in recent days, plus possible cases in Greece. China and Vietnam also announced fresh outbreaks in poultry, while Thailand said the disease had killed a 48-year-old man. He is thought to have eaten infected chicken meat. Migratory birds, on their seasonal flights across the continents and oceans, seem the most likely explanation for its increasingly global spread.
This week, as the disease threatened to sweep across the European Union, its ministers held urgent meetings to discuss how to tackle an epidemic that could devastate the poultry industry or, worse, if the virus changes to become more easily communicable among people, set off a human influenza pandemic that threatens the lives of millions. Germany and Austria have ordered that all poultry be kept indoors to halt the disease's spread. Britain announced plans to produce vaccines for its entire 60m population in the event of a human pandemic.
The interesting question is where is our plan? The answer - still in draft:
Oct 10, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – A not-yet-released version of the Bush administration's plan for dealing with an influenza pandemic predicts that such an event could exact an enormous toll in life and wealth, according to recent newspaper reports. The New York Times, which obtained a recent draft of the plan, said it describes a worst-case scenario in which the flu would kill more than 1.9 million Americans, put 8.5 million in hospitals, and cost more than $450 billion.
Those numbers suggest that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking a more somber view of the risks than it did in the previous draft plan, released in August 2004. That document cited earlier estimates that pandemic flu could cause between 89,000 and 207,000 deaths in the United States.
The new draft predicts that an emerging pandemic in Asia, where widespread avian flu has killed more than 60 people and generated fear of an epidemic, would be likely to reach US shores in a few months or even weeks, the Times said in an Oct 8 report. Quarantines and travel restrictions, while recommended, probably would not postpone the disease's arrival "by more than a month or two."
The document says a pandemic could overwhelm hospitals, touch off riots at vaccination clinics, and lead to power and food shortages, the newspaper said.
However, infectious disease expert Michael T. Osterholm said the draft plan obtained by the Times is out of date. "There have been tremendous improvements in the plan over the last week to 10 days," an Oct 9 report in the Washington Post quoted Osterholm as saying. He is director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, publisher of this site.
Until recently, the plan regarded a pandemic as "more like an earthquake or hurricane," he told the Post. But a pandemic is an event that unfolds over 12 to 18 months, and the plan is now "in flux," he said.
Osterholm confirmed that the plan predicts a death toll as high as 1.9 million, with as many as half of all Americans getting sick.
Under the plan, he told the newspaper, the military probably would be used to help move critical supplies and guard vaccination centers. But the document foresees only a small role for quarantines, and many decisions on how to manage disruptions and shortages would be made by local, not national, officials.
According to the Times, the plan says the nation should have the capacity to produce 600 million doses of vaccine within 6 months, more than 10 times the current capacity. It also calls for a national stockpile of 133 million treatment courses of antiviral drugs.
The administration has said it has 4.3 million treatment courses of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and is aiming for 20 million.
On the crucial question of who would get vaccine first in a pandemic, the plan's answer is workers who make the vaccines and flu drugs, along with medical personnel caring for flu patients, the Times story said. Following them would be the elderly and severely ill, pregnant women, transplant and AIDS patients, and parents of babies. Firefighters and government leaders would be next.
One section of the plan, the Times reported, describes a hypothetical scenario in which severe respiratory illness erupts in a village overseas in April, reaches the United States in June, and triggers small outbreaks around the nation by July. When scientists isolate the virus, as the scenario goes, they determine that the avian flu vaccine developed in advance will provide only partial protection.
Although the CDC has been warning that bird flu is the largest human health threat, it doesn't seem to be responding with any vigor to the European spread. CDC Bird Flu Fact Sheet
Among other things, the US lags behind in stockpiling antiviral medication:
A recent report in the British magazine Nature said that Britain has ordered enough oseltamivir for about 25% of its population and Canada has stockpiled enough to cover about 5% of Canadians. The current US stockpile would cover less than 1% of the population.
Here's the WHO global pandemic preparedness plan. WHO Plan
A paper by Bunker et al published on line today in Science indicates that species diversity is important in maintaining the stability of forests and thus their capacity to store carbon. Biodiversity and Carbon Storage
The global response to climate change is becoming risk management according to Richard Kerr. We are undertaking emission reduction strategies in large part to hedge our bets against sudden climate changes. Climate Change Bets
Science provides a nice summary from the Aspen Abrupt Climate Change conference concerning possible abrupt climate changes ahead -- among other things, scientists are discounting the Day After Tomorrow scenario. Abrupt Climate Change Conference
A study by Asner, et al, reported in Science yesterday used new satellite reconnaisance techniques to detect smaller, selective cuts in the Amazon forests. The new data indicates that annual cuts are up to twice as large as previously reported. Amazon Stealth Deforestation
Amazon deforestation has been measured by remote sensing for three decades. In comparison, selective logging has been mostly invisible to satellites. We developed a large-scale, high-resolution, automated remote-sensing analysis of selective logging in the top five timber-producing states of the Brazilian Amazon. Logged areas ranged from 12,075 to 19,823 square kilometers per year (±14%) between 1999 and 2002, equivalent to 60 to 123% of previously reported deforestation area. Up to 1200 square kilometers per year of logging were observed on conservation lands. Each year, 27 million to 50 million cubic meters of wood were extracted, and a gross flux of 0.1 billion metric tons of carbon was destined for release to the atmosphere by logging.
A study published in Science by Alley indicates that the dynamics of ice sheets are still too poorly understood to make confident and precise predictions of sea level changes. Sea Changes
Future sea-level rise is an important issue related to the continuing buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, with the potential to raise sea level 70 meters if completely melted, dominate uncertainties in projected sea-level change. Freshwater fluxes from these ice sheets also may affect oceanic circulation, contributing to climate change. Observational and modeling advances have reduced many uncertainties related to ice-sheet behavior, but recently detected, rapid ice-marginal changes contributing to sea-level rise may indicate greater ice-sheet sensitivity to warming than previously considered.
Science reports that, using a sort of reverse alchemy, scientists may be able to use gold to synthesize chemicals without using hydrogen or solvents to trigger oxidation reactions. This would move chemistry a long way towards sustainability. Reverse Alchemy
Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation is holding a Special Institute on NEPA and Federal Land Development on Feb. 2-3, 2006 in Denver. The program, primarily designed for industry practitioners, will cover a variety of topics including CEQ implementation, Congressional reform efforts, the impact of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, public and industry partnerships, and NEPA appeals and litigation. Conference Brochure
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
The NYTimes reports that the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee has approved an amendment to the budget reconciliation bill approving drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The bill cannot be subject to fillibuster. ANWR Drilling Approved
Today, the 9th Circuit ordered the district court to require short-term measures to protect coho salmon adversely affected by diversions from the Klamath River irrigation project, holding that the BiOp supporting the project was arbitrary and capricious. Klamath irrigation project BiOp
the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Bush administration’s water diversion plan for the Klamath River because it fails to protect threatened Klamath River coho salmon. The court sided with fishing and conservation groups that have been seeking a more balanced distribution of water needed to rebuild Klamath River salmon stocks. The court found the government’s plan illegal because it failed to provide adequate water flows for coho salmon until eight years into the ten-year plan.
The court said, “Five full generations of coho will complete their three-year life cycles -- hatch, rear, and spawn -- during those eight years. Or, if there is insufficient water to sustain the coho during this period, they will not complete their life cycle, with the consequence that there will be no coho at the end of the eight years. If that happens, all the water in the world in 2010 and 2011 will not protect the coho, for there will be none to protect.”
Salmon advocates have been pointing to the plan’s inadequacies since it was released in May 2002. Indeed, as soon as it was implemented and water diversions to upstream farmers began, juvenile salmon died in the river. A severe shortage of adult Klamath River salmon this year is traced directly to the effects of diverting Klamath water to farms. This shortage resulted in commercial salmon fishermen losing about 50 percent of their normal fishing season. In 2003, a federal district court struck down the long-term portion of the plan but ordered no change to current operations.
“This decision gives hope to the families that depend on Klamath River salmon,” said Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens' Associations. “This case is about restoring balance to the basin so that fishermen, Native Americans, and irrigators can all receive a fair share of the water. We will continue to work on a new vision for the basin.” PCFFA is the west coast’s largest organization of commercial fishing families.
A coalition of commercial fishermen and conservation groups, joined by the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes, filed the lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and Bureau of Reclamation in September 2002 because the agencies’ 10-year plan failed to leave sufficient water in the river for salmon and relied on future, speculative actions from the states of California and Oregon to make up for the missing water. Five months after the plan was adopted, in the fall of 2002, low flows caused by unbalanced irrigation deliveries killed over 64,000 adult salmon. However months earlier, during the spring of 2002, juvenile salmon died in the river from low water conditions. The loss of these juveniles is what led to the severe commercial salmon fishing restrictions this year on the California and Oregon coasts.
Because Klamath River coho are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service must approve any irrigation plan devised by the Bureau of Reclamation that relies on taking water from the Klamath River. In May 2002, the Fisheries Service held that the Bureau’s plan would jeopardize the continued survival of the Klamath River coho, but failed to require adequate measures to protect the salmon.
The court ordered the case back to the district court to put more water in the river saying, “We emphasize that the interim injunctive relief should reflect the short life-cycle of the species. It is not enough to provide water for the coho to survive in five years, if in the meantime, the population has been weakened or destroyed by inadequate water flows.”
“Bush administration officials swept science under the rug, and the court caught them,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “With this decision, management of the Klamath River must be balanced so salmon and the communities that depend on them aren’t left high and dry.”
Inadequate river flows that result when the Bureau of Reclamation diverts water for irrigation in the high desert hurt salmon in a number of ways. Newly hatched salmon, called fry, need safe habitat in and around bank vegetation to hide and feed. Lower river flows force these young fish into the mainstream of the river where they are easy prey. Juvenile salmon, called smolts, need adequate river flows and cold clean water in the spring to safely make the journey to the Pacific Ocean. Adult salmon, returning upriver to spawn, are hurt or killed by high water temperatures and poor water quality due to low river flows caused by upstream irrigation diversions.
“The Bush administration has worked hard to maintain the status quo in the Klamath Basin, but the status quo killed 64,000 salmon,” said Steve Pedery of ONRC. “Too much water has been promised to too many different interests. Salmon need water to survive, and so do the commercial fishing and Native American families whose livelihood depends on healthy salmon runs."
The Klamath was once the third mightiest salmon-producing river in the continental US, behind only the Columbia and Sacramento in productivity. The river has been reduced to a shadow of its former self largely as a result of the Bureau of Reclamations’ re-plumbing of its headwaters to maximize irrigation in the arid upper basin desert. The long-term answer could include buying back some of the agriculture land in the Klamath Basin to reduce water demand.
The appeal was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of PCFFA, Institute for Fisheries Resources, The Wilderness Society, WaterWatch of Oregon, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Klamath Forest Alliance, and Headwaters. In the district court, these groups were joined by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Napa) and the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes; amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs were filed by the Cities of Arcata and Eureka, Del Norte, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties, and the Humboldt Bay, Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.