Friday, March 10, 2006

What the World Needs Now is Good Water Governance

From UN Water:
Although unevenly distributed, the world has plenty of freshwater. However, mismanagement, limited resources and environmental changes mean that almost one-fifth of the planet’s population still lacks access to safe drinking water and 40 per cent lack access to basic sanitation.  The United Nations World Water Development Report 2 released at the World Water Forum in Mexico City
focuses on the importance of governance in managing the world’s water resources and tackling poverty.

Governance systems, it says, “determine who gets what water, when and how, and decide who has the right to water and related services.” Such systems are not limited to ‘government,’ but include local authorities, the private sector and civil society. They also cover a range of issues intimately connected to water, from health and food security, to economic development, land use and the preservation of the natural ecosystems on which our water resources depend.

The report highlights that

• Although significant and steady progress is being made, and that “at the global scale there is plenty of freshwater”, WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme estimates indicate that 1.1 billion people still do not have access to an adequate supply of drinking water and some 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. These people are among the world’s poorest. Over half of them live in China or India. At this rate of progress, regions such as sub-Saharan Africa will not meet the UN Millenium Development Goal of halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. The MDG target of halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without basic sanitation will not be met globally if present trends persist. According to the report “mismanagement, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of new investments in building human capacity as well as physical infrastructure” is largely responsible for this situation.

• Poor water quality is a key cause of poor livelihood and health. Globally, diarrhoeral diseases and malaria killed about 3.1 million people in 2002. Ninety percent of these deaths were children under the age of five. An estimated 1.6 million lives could be saved annually by providing access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

• Water quality is declining in most regions. Evidence indicates that the diversity of freshwater species and ecosystems is deteriorating rapidly, often faster than terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The report points out that the hydrological cycle, upon which life depends, needs a healthy environment to function.

• Ninety percent of natural disasters are water-related events, and they are on the increase. Many are the result of poor land use. The tragic and developing drought in East Africa, where there has been huge felling of forests for charcoal production and fuel wood, is a poignant example. The report also cites the case of Lake Chad in Africa, which has shrunk by some 90 percent since the 1960s, mainly because of overgrazing, deforestation and large unsustainable irrigation projects. Two out of every five people now live in areas vulnerable to floods and rising sea-levels. The nations most at risk include Bangladesh, China, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United States of America and the small island developing states. The report stresses that changing climate patterns will further exacerbate the situation.

• The world will need 55 percent more food by 2030 This translates into an increasing demand for irrigation, which already claims nearly 70 percent of all freshwater consumed for human use. Food production has greatly increased over the past 50 years, yet 13 percent of the global population (850 million people, mostly in rural areas) still do not have enough to eat.

• Half of humanity will be living in towns and cities by 2007. By 2030, this will have risen to nearly two thirds, resulting in drastic increases in water demand in urban areas. An estimated two billion of these people will be living in squatter settlements and slums. It is the urban poor who suffer the most from lack of clean water and sanitation.

• Over two billion people in developing countries do not have access to reliable forms of energy. Water is a key resource for energy generation, which in turn is vital for economic development. Europe makes use of 75 percent of its hydropower potential. Africa -- where 60 percent of the population has no access to electricity – has developed only 7 percent of its potential.

• In many places of the world, a colossal 30 to 40 percent or more of water goes unaccounted for, through water leakages in pipes and canals and illegal connections.

• Although there are no accurate figures, it is estimated that political corruption costs the water sector millions of dollars every year and undermines water services, especially to the poor. The report cites a survey in India for example, in which 41 percent of the customer respondents had made more than one small bribe in the past six months to falsify metre readings; 30 percent had made payments to expedite repair work and 12 percent had made payments to expedite new water and sanitation connections.

Recognising the vital part freshwater plays in human security and development, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, adopted by Member States and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002), called on countries to develop integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005. The report indicates that only about 12 percent of countries have done so to date, although many have begun the process.

Financial resources for water are also stagnating. According to the report, total Official Developpment Assistance (ODA) to the water sector in recent years has averaged approximately US$3 billion a year with an additional US$1.5 billion allocated to the sector in non-concessional lending, mainly by the World Bank. However, only a small proportion (12 percent) of these funds reach those most in need. And only about ten percent is directed to support development of water policy, planning and programmes.

Added to this, private sector investment in water services is declining. During the 1990s the private sector spent an estimated US$25 billion in water supply and sanitation in developing countries, mostly in Latin America and Asia. However, many big multinational water companies have begun withdrawing from or downsizing their operations in the developing world because of the high political and financial risks.

Although their performance has often failed to meet the expectations of developing country governments and donor countries, the report stresses that it “would be a mistake” to write off the private sector. Financially strained governments with weak regulations, it finds, “are a poor alternative for addressing the issue of poor water resources management and inadequate supplies of water services”.

Water usage increased six-fold during the 20th century, twice the rate of population growth. Our ability to meet the continually increasing global demand, says the report, will depend on good governance and management of available resources.

“Good governance is essential for managing our increasingly-stretched supplies of freshwater and indispensable for tackling poverty,” says UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. “There is no one blueprint for good governance, which is both complex and dynamic. But we know that it must include adequate institutions – nationally, regionally and locally, strong, effective legal frameworks and sufficient human and financial resources.”


March 10, 2006 in Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ABA SEER LNG Development Projects Teleconference

In light of the approval of the Trans-Siberian pipeline past Lake Baikal and European plans to make long-term contracts with Russia for LNG, LNG development is a timely topic.  ABA SEER will have a quick teleconference on LNG Development on Tuesday, March 18, 2006

Link: Environmental Issues in LNG Development Projects - An Introduction.

12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Central Time
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Mountain Time
9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time

Program Overview: In the U.S., natural-gas prices are up fivefold since the beginning of the decade, and approach record highs. About 57 percent of the nation's households use natural gas for heat, according to the Census Bureau. Natural gas also is used for such purposes as generating electricity and producing plastics and fertilizer. Demand has grown amid a strengthening economy and interest in cleaner-burning fuel. While the majority of natural gas consumed in the U.S. comes from North American wells, many fields are aging and the industry has found it difficult to boost production. With domestic production leveled off, the energy industry expected to compensate with imports of liquefied natural gas or LNG. In some areas of the United States, including New England, the supply-demand balance for natural gas could be tipped as early as 2007, but certainly by 2010, unless new delivery infrastructure is built. On the supply side, most of the worldwide gas reserves are "stranded" and not connected to pipeline infrastructure or markets. Liquefaction of these stranded gas reserves is the method for bringing this natural gas to market. The process has been occurring for decades in many parts of the world, but is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States. In 2001, the industry began the process of reopening mothballed liquefied natural gas terminals and proposed building dozens of new ones with almost 60 projects currently announced for North America. The federal government streamlined the regulatory process with amendments to the Deepwater Port Act in 2002 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005. As with any intensive energy infrastructure project, the environmental issues are myriad and complex.

The purpose of this conference it to highlight some of the more common environmental issues that arise in connection with LNG project development. Among those issues can be concerns related thermal impacts due to cryogenic temperatures, sea-water vaporization methods, air emissions, seismic concerns, exclusion zones for potential vapor clouds and radiant heat, as well as traditional project development issues related to wetlands, storm water discharge, and traffic. The conference will review both upstream and downstream environmental impacts from LNG development and community concerns in the U.S. and in Sakhalin Island, Russia.

Moderator: George Rusk, Vice President, Ecology & Environment, Inc., Lancaster, NY

William H. Daughdrill, Marine Safety Specialist, Ecology & Environment, Inc., Baton Rouge, LA
David Gordon, Pacific Environment, San Francisco, CA
Dianne Phillips, Holland & Knight LLP, Boston, MA

March 10, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Major Ecosystem Shift in the Northern Bering Sea -- Grebmeier et al. 311 (5766): 1461 -- Science

Contemporary climates changes have shifted an entire ecosystem, the Northern Bering Sea.  A study by Grebmeier published today online by Science details those changes. A Major Ecosystem Shift in the Northern Bering Sea

Until recently, northern Bering Sea ecosystems were characterized by extensive seasonal sea ice cover, high water column and sediment carbon production, and tight pelagic-benthic coupling of organic production. Here, we show that these ecosystems are shifting away from these characteristics. Changes in biological communities are contemporaneous with shifts in regional atmospheric and hydrographic forcing. In the past decade, geographic displacement of marine mammal population distributions has coincided with a reduction of benthic prey populations, an increase in pelagic fish, a reduction in sea ice, and an increase in air and ocean temperatures. These changes now observed on the shallow shelf of the northern Bering Sea should be expected to affect a much broader portion of the Pacific-influenced sector of the Arctic Ocean.

March 10, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Playing the Global Warming Game: Robert Socolow's World Bank Speech

Robert Socolow, the keynote speaker at the Exeter conference Socolow Exeter Speech.pdf and the Director of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative gave a speech yesterday at the World Bank based on his paper with Steve Pacala. Socolow and Pacala, Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years (full text-subscription req) Their paper was part of a Science special issue.  This links you with a review and table of contents of that issue.  Not so simple

Socolow invited his audience to play a mind game about how to limit global warming, using their concept of stabilization wedges -- 1 billion tons of carbon per year.  His talk identifies and evaluates many carbon stabilization strategies.

[[BTW, there are commercially available Global Warming games -- something to spice up that long class.  Keep Cool (there is an American bookstore who distributes it for those of you in the US).]]

Socolow's take home message for the Bank was simple: Mitigating basic human needs has a negligible impact on the climate problem and mitigation must begin now in developing countries.

The gist of his talk (paraphrased and edited from the transcript provided by E & E News) was:

Assume (1) climate change is a real problem and (2) we can't easily displace fossil fuels.  These are the most pessimistic and most realistic assumptions. 

Assume two options 50 years from now:  (1) business as usual, which doubles current emissions in 2055 and (2) cap emissions at the current level - about 7 billion tons of carbon per year -- which triples the emissions in 1955.  So at a minimum, we want to beat doubline.  Although environmentalists argue that we should try to cut emissions by 50%, we'll be lucky to cap them in the next 50 years and then head downward in the following 50 years.  The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million until the 1800s.  Now we are breathing air with 380 ppm, increasing about 2 ppm per year. So we're about a third of the way to doubling.  If we wait 50 years and then cap, we would be essentially accepting tripling.

Understand as best you can what is at stake in climate terms, in the environmental impacts terms, of accepting tripling versus beating doubling. There a lot of monsters behind the door. Things that show up sometimes in climate models and not in others, but that are clearly conceivable outcomes, that are nonlinear outcomes; the shutting down of the thermal haline circulation, the gulf stream that warms northern and western Europe, the reappearance regularly of the Sahel drought, which kills millions of people, damaging the Amazon, droughts.

Making a judgment together about whether beating doubling or accepting tripling should be our objective. And I must say, somewhat to my surprise, as the public understands this problem they are saying let's get on with a solution.

What would it be like to beat doubling instead of accepting tripling? What does that entail? I come with a message of optimism. The interim goal, no more emissions 50 years globally -- 50 years from now than today, is achievable for three reasons. The world has a terribly inefficient energy system. Carbon emissions have just begun to be priced. Most of the year 2055 physical plant has not been built, although it is being built, what will be around in 2055 is being built at a large rate all over the world. And so every year 2055 is that much closer.

To stabilize emissions, divide the 7 billion tons of carbon per year into stabilization wedge -- 50 years wide, 1 billion tons high -- so it is 25 billion tons of carbon that have not gone into the atmosphere as a result of some campaign.  At $ 100 US per ton, its $2.5 trillion at stake. Well, that's a pretty big business. It's a business opportunity.   Many opportunities. 

By far the most important are energy efficiency opportunities: Building buildings that are more energy efficient, a more efficient car fleet, more efficient industry, more efficient trucking, all across the entire use of energy we have opportunities for more efficient power plants.

Then, decarbonize electricity and decarbonize fuel. 40% of carbon is from power plants; 60% in vehicles or in stationary sources, like a factory or a home furnace.

It is my view it is harder to decarbonize fuels than to decarbonize electricity. So another wedge is replacing fuel application with a decarbonized electricity application.  For example, we have a car that runs on -- a hybrid car running half of the time on a battery and half of the time on the engine -- electricity. Now today that battery is charged from the gasoline engine, but it could be charged at home from an outlet at your home, that's called a plug-in hybrid. If that electricity sector were decarbonized you would be driving your vehicle -- half of the driving would be on the decarbonized electricity and the other half, let's say, on gasoline. Similarly the heat pumped into buildings displaces a gas furnace with an electric system, if this electricity system is easier to decarbonize. That's a class of wedges.

Another opportunity: build up carbon in the forests and in the soils. We reduce deforestation. We re-growth more intensive forest where we have forests now. We bring forests to where we don't have them now. We make grasslands more successful. And we put carbon into soil, building back carbon that's been removed from the soil by agriculture, by deliberate agricultural practices. All of that helps, but only amounts to 1 or 2 wedges from the forest and soil sector.

And there's the other than CO2 wedge -- we can look for a wedge or two in better management of methane, nitrous oxide, and some of the fluorocarbons.

Continue reading

March 10, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Nearly 6000 scientists sign letter to protect the Endangered Species Act

The biologists letter to Congress is available on the Union of Concerned Scientists web site. UCS Site - Biologists Letter on ESA  The site also has a copy with the full list of signers, but be careful, it is a 150 page PDF file because of the number of signers.  That full file is available here. Biologists ESA Letter full list of signers.pdf  You can also click on a map to get a list of signers from your region.


A Letter from Biologists to the United States Senate
Concerning Science in the Endangered Species Act
January 2006

Dear Senators:

We are writing as biologists with expertise in a variety of scientific disciplines that concern

biological diversity and the loss of species. With the Senate considering policies that could have

long-lasting impacts on this nation's species diversity, we ask that you take into account scientific

principles that are crucial to species conservation. Biological diversity provides food, fiber,

medicines, clean water, and myriad other ecosystem products and services on which we depend

every day. If we look only at well-studied species groups, nearly one-third of native species in the

United States are at risk of disappearing.¹  Extinction is truly irreversible - once gone, individual

species and all of the services that they provide us cannot be brought back.

On December 8, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act ("ESA") with

the goal of conserving endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems on which they depend.

For species that have been listed and provided protection under the ESA, much of that purpose

has been achieved. According to an article in the September 30, 2005, edition of Science,

less than one percent of listed species have gone extinct since 1973, while 10 percent of candidate

species still waiting to be listed have suffered that fate. In addition to the hundreds of species that

the Act has protected from extinction, listing has contributed to population increases or the

stabilization of populations for at least 35 percent of listed species, and perhaps significantly more,

as well as the recovery of such signature species as the peregrine falcon. While complete recovery

has been realized for just two percent of species listed, given the precarious state of most species

when listed, this represents significant progress. 

One of the great strengths of the Endangered Species Act is its foundation in sound scientific

principles and its reliance on the best available science.² Unfortunately, recent legislative proposals

would critically weaken this foundation. For species conservation to continue, it is imperative both

that the scientific principles embodied in the Act are maintained, and that the Act is strengthened,

fully implemented, and adequately funded.   

Objective scientific information and methods should be used in listing species, subspecies, and

distinct population segments as endangered or threatened under the Act. While non-scientific factors

may appropriately be considered at points later in the process of protecting species, their use

in listing decisions is inconsistent with biologically defensible principles. Due to the fragile state

of many of those species that require the Act's protections, the listing process needs to proceed

as promptly as possible; otherwise, species will go extinct while waiting to be listed.

Habitat provides the unique food, shelter, and other complex requirements that each species

needs for its survival; habitat loss and degradation are the principal reasons for the decline of

most species at risk. Habitat protection is essential if species are to be conserved and

the goals of the ESA are to be met. The relationship between species, their habitats,

and the threats they face can be exceedingly complex. Therefore, the chances of species recovery

are maximized when habitat protection is based on sound scientific principles, and

when the determinations of the biological needs of at-risk species are scientifically well informed.

The obligation for federal agencies to consult with the appropriate wildlife agency and its biologists

when federal actions could affect habitat for listed species is an indispensable provision in the ESA.

It provides the means for science to inform decisions about the habitat-dependent

survival and recovery of species at-risk. The designation of critical habitat places

further obligations on the Federal government to, among other things, protect the habitat

essential to species recovery. It is far more effective, far easier, and far less expensive to

protect functioning natural habitats than it is to recreate them once they are gone.

Scientific Tools
The current Endangered Species Act standard of "best available science" has worked well

and has been flexible enough over time to accommodate evolving scientific information

and practice. Failure to keep the ESA open to the use of scientific information from the

best available research and monitoring, and to rely on impartial scientific experts, will

contribute to delays in species recovery and to species declines and extinctions. Critical

scientific information should not only include current empirical data, but also, for example,

historic habitat and population information, population surveys, habitat and population modeling,

and taxonomic and genetic studies. Use of scientific knowledge should not be hampered

by administrative requirements that overburden or slow the Act's implementation,

or by limiting consideration of certain types of scientific information. 

Recovery Plans
Recovery plans must be science-based documents that are developed with the input of scientists

and are responsive to new information. Recovery plans must be based on the

best possible information about the specific biology of each species, must identify threats

to each species and address what is needed to mitigate those threats,

and must predict how species are likely to respond to mitigation measures that may be adopted.

To be most effective, recovery plans need to incorporate scientific principles

of adaptive management, so they can be updated as new information on species

and their habitats becomes available. Changes to the ESA that would delay completion

of recovery plans, or provide for inflexible recovery goals that cannot be informed

by new or additional scientific knowledge, should be avoided.

Scientific Advances and New Issues 
The scientific community has contributed significant new information on imperiled species,

their uses of habitats, and threats to those resources since the ESA was first passed into law.

Serious, new, and as yet insufficiently addressed issues, such as global warming

and invasive species, have emerged as primary environmental concerns that affect the fate

of our native species diversity. We urge Congress to initiate thorough studies to consider

the foremost problems that drive species toward extinction. 

Losing species means losing the potential to solve some of humanity's most intractable problems,

including hunger and disease. The Endangered Species Act is more than just a law -

it is the ultimate safety net in our life support system. As Earth has changed and as science

has progressed since the Endangered Species Act was authorized in 1973, the ESA has served

our nation well, largely because of its flexibility and its solid foundation in science. It is crucial

to maintain these fundamental principles. The challenges of effective implementation of the Act

should not be interpreted to require substantive rewriting of this valuable, well-functioning piece

of legislation.

Thank you very much for taking our concerns into account. We are available to discuss any

and all of the issues we have raised.


Selected Signers

David Bain
University of Washington
Friday Harbor, WA

Ron Carroll
University of Georgia
Atlanta, GA

Paul Ehrlich
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Thomas Eisner
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY

Melissa Grigione, Ph.D.
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL

Jane Lubchenco
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR

Lynn Maguire
Duke University
Durham, NC

Gary Meffe
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL

Judy Meyer
University of Georgia
Athens, GA

Harold Mooney
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Dennis Murphy
University of Nevada
Reno, NV

Barry Noon
Colorado State University
Ft. Collins, CO

Stuart Pimm
Duke University
Durham, NC

Gordon Orians
University of Washington
Seattle, WA

Peter Raven
Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis, MO

Michael Soule
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA

John Terborgh
Duke University
Durham, NC

¹From NatureServe, an international network of scientists cataloguing biological diversity.
²The National Academy of Science’s National Research Council said in its seminal 1995 report, Science and the Endangered Species Act: "…there has been a good match between science and the ESA…[and] the ESA is based on sound scientific principles."


March 10, 2006 in Biodiversity, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Why NOAA Didn't Help Connect the Dots -- Hurricane Katrina and Global Warming

update:  why the NOAA scientists didn't help us connect the dots: from the Wall Street Journal

Statement Acknowledges
Some Government Scientists
See Link to Global Warming

February 16, 2006; Page A4

Amid a growing outcry from climate researchers in its own ranks, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration backed away from a statement it released after last year's powerful hurricane season that discounted any link to global warming. A corrected statement, which says some NOAA researchers disagree with that view, was posted to NOAA's Web site yesterday.The change is part of a high-stakes fight over the issue of global warming, and what some scientists complain is a widening gap between what their research shows and White House climate policy. Three NOAA scientists, speaking in interviews, said the agency has begun keeping closer tabs on their comments to journalists. One of them also said the agency has declined to let him take part in interviews on controversial topics. Such charges have been publicly leveled by scientists outside the agency since December. They gained force last week when James Hansen, a climate researcher at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, again accused NOAA of censoring scientific communication. Dr. Hansen has said NASA public-affairs officials had tried to discourage him from presenting his views that human activities could lead to severe global warming. Late Tuesday, NOAA administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., sent an email to agency staff saying that he encourages "scientists to speak freely and openly" and rejected charges that NOAA scientists have been discouraged from commenting on whether human-caused global warming is influencing hurricanes.In the wake of Dr. Hansen's comments, some NOAA scientists say they are now speaking out.Pieter Tans, a researcher who studies carbon dioxide at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., says public-affairs "minders" now sit in on more interviews, something that didn't happen before. He said he sees it as an attempt to control comments about the dangers of climate change. A ruckus erupted after the November issue of the agency's magazine said there was a "consensus" among NOAA hurricane experts that increases in hurricane activity were primarily the result of natural factors -- even though within NOAA some believed man-made warming was a key cause. Kerry Emanuel, a climate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he found the statement problematic because it appeared to represent an official NOAA position, and might discourage agency scientists from contradicting it. Dr. Emanuel, who believes global warming is making hurricanes worse, was among the first to publicly criticize NOAA's policy at a major meeting in December, where he termed it "censorship." Scott Smullen, NOAA's deputy director of public affairs, said the article was never meant to be an official position, and added that the use of the word "consensus" was a mistake made by one of his staff members. "There is no consensus," Mr. Smullen said. Thomas Knutson, a research meteorologist with the agency's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., said he believes his views have been censored by the NOAA public-affairs office because of his view that global warming could be making hurricanes worse. Last October the public-affairs office said no to a scheduled interview with CNBC television, he said. "NOAA public affairs called and asked what I would say to certain questions, like is there a trend in Atlantic hurricanes," Dr. Knutson said. "I said I thought there was a possibility of a trend emerging that tropical hurricanes were becoming more intense. They turned down that interview." Mr. Smullen says he wasn't aware of that particular case, but notes that Dr. Knutson gives dozens of interviews a year, and that interview requests can be turned down for numerous reasons. On another occasion, Dr. Knutson said he had been invited around the time of Hurricane Katrina to appear on a television show with Ron Reagan, the son of former President Reagan who is co-host of a show on MSNBC. But shortly before he was to appear, he got a voice mail from a person in public affairs. "He said, 'The White House turned it down,' " Dr. Knutson said. White House officials said they weren't immediately aware of any attempt on their part to block Dr. Knutson's interview, but added they don't censor government scientists. They added NOAA researchers gave numerous interviews during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "Dr. Tom Knutson took part in those interviews and is a leading climate modeler and well respected in the scientific community," said White House spokeswoman Michele St. Martin. NOAA officials say the White House doesn't rule on their media requests. They also say they weren't immediately aware of the Ron Reagan matter, but add they usually decline media requests when it appears they are frivolous. "If someone were to call in and it is in the nature of a food fight, we decline that," said Jordan St. John, director of NOAA's public affairs. "We are a serious science agency."

update: NOAAs summary (10/24/05): Global Warming and Hurricanes; see also KT response to Michaels (10/10/05) Knutson Reply

   In Science, Kerr addresses the relationship between anthropogenic climate change and hurricanes.  Until recently, there were no empirical studies supporting climate change modeling results that predicted an increase in hurricane intensity.  However, the data is catching up to the models.  Today, Science published a new study by Webster et al suggesting that numbers and duration of hurricanes are indeed growing in the North Atlantic, but not in other oceans that are experiencing temperature increases.  All basins are experiencing increasing numbers of category 4 and 5 hurricanes.  Webster - Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment    Summarized by the Economist. Hurricanes   Human-caused climate change to date may be part of the explanation, but scientists are not certain.  However, human-caused climate change may become a more significant a driver of hurricane intensity as warming continues through the century.  [updated 9/15]


Original post 8/31/05 with cites and comments:
        At the beginning of August, we knew that there would be more tropical storms/hurricanes.  See post of 8/2/05.  Hurricane frequency/dead zone post.  That post reported NOAAs August hurricane outlook. ( Expert Assessments: Atlantic Hurricane Outlook Update).  We also knew that the increasing intensity of tropical storms/hurricanes has been tied to climate change.  See post of 8/1/05. Hurricane intensity post reporting Emanuel study , Trenbarth Summary, discussion on the climate science scientists' blog: Real Climate Storms and Global Warming , NOAA's Knutson Global warming and hurricanes, and  Knutson and Tuleya comparative model study Knutson and Tuleya .   

        As hurricanes hit land, they increasingly encounter densely developed areas -- due to population growth and government policies that encourage development in vulnerable areas [I'm willing to go out on a limb here] -- that have lost their natural ability to absorb floods because of the destruction of wetlands [which is one of the principal reasons we protect wetlands].    Population growth, development in vulnerable areas, wetlands destruction, poor engineering, failure to fund known and feasible preventative measures, inadequate response planning (and in hindsight inadequate response implementation) are all culprits.


        The way I connect the dots of climate change is that the climate change we are inducing is taking and will increasingly take a huge toll in human life -- including, but not limited to, human lives destroyed in hurricanes like Katrinaearly reporting on impacts    The climate change approach that has been pursued by the United States, which fails to aggressively address climate change and prevent such tragedies (and the enormous array of other adverse impacts), is morally bankrupt.

        The number and intensity of hurricanes during a particular hurricane season vary widely.  However, intensification of even a naturally increasing or varying number of hurricanes means more destruction.  An individual hurricane like Katrina is not "caused" by global warming.  Several colleagues have pointed out that one should be careful about  linking hurricanes to climate change.    Because of the large natural variation in number and intensity of hurricanes during a given year and the natural cyclical nature of the variation, it is hard for scientists to prove (or disprove) a trend -- and it is, of course, impossible to say a particular hurricane was "caused" by global warming.   Another colleague has underscored this point by pointing to a paper released by Pielke Jr. as Katrina approached the Gulf Coast.  Hurricanes and Global Warming.  See also Pielke Jr. blog  Prometheus  [FYI: Pielke Jr is a political science/science policy person and Pielke Sr. is the meteorologist.  Both have been key players in questioning the accuracy of climate change modeling and stressing that the climate changes induced by humans are not limited to greenhouse gas emissions, but include landscape changes and aerosol emissions -- fair enough, but beside the point for purposes of this discussion]. 

        But as another colleague points out that natural cycles and global warming are not mutually exclusive explanations of an increase in number or intensity of hurricanes.  Even if climate change is a small factor in increasing numbers of intense tropical storms and even if hurricanes are a "minor" part of the adverse impacts from climate change -- that does not make any intensification  of the increasing number of hurricanes unimportant. 

      The impacts we have witnessed from an "indirect hit" on New Orleans from a major hurricane hopefully put human faces on the word "intensification."


March 10, 2006 in Climate Change, International, North America, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)

Secret of the Bees

An article by Fontaine, et al., published earlier this year in PLOS Biology provided the first experimental evidence that the persistence of a plant community can be affected by a loss of diversity of its pollinating fauna.Pollinator/Plant Diversity  The full text is found below.

Continue reading

March 10, 2006 in Biodiversity, Physical Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

How Nature Creates a Pandemic Influenza

The Public Library of Science, PLOS, is a series of open access scientific journals.  PLOS Biology has an introductory article on how viruses mutate and reassort PLOS Biology Article on Influenza Viruses  Those of you discussing this issue might want to take a look.

March 10, 2006 in Biodiversity, International, Physical Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Mangroves Crucial to Global Carbon Cycle

Although the days when mangrove swamps were cleared without thought are past, recent research highlights a new reason why mangroves are important:

The global carbon cycle is currently the topic of great interest because of its importance in the global climate system and also because human activities are altering the carbon cycle to a significant degree. This crucial biogeochemical cycle involves the exchange of carbon between the Earth's atmosphere, the oceans, the vegetation, and the soils of the Earth's terrestrial ecosystems.

Since the oceans stand for the largest pool of carbon near the surface of the Earth, their role is of particular importance in the global carbon cycle. Indeed, the organic matter dissolved in the oceans contains a similar amount of carbon as is stored in the skies as atmospheric carbon dioxide. Consequently, in order to understand global carbon cycle, and its effects on climate, it is crucial to quantify the sources of marine dissolved organic carbon (DOC).

German researchers have investigated the impact of mangroves, the dominant intertidal vegetation of the tropics and a source of terrestrial DOC, on marine DOC inventories. The study was performed on the scale of an entire mangrove-shelf system that integrates information of about 10,000 km² of north Brazilian mangroves. A combined approach of stable carbon isotopes and nuclear magnetic resonance was used to quantify mangrove-derived DOC on the North Brazilian shelf....Mangroves are the main source of terrestrial DOC in the open ocean off northern Brazil. Even at the outermost stations, where intrusion of Amazon River water could not be excluded, the mangrove-derived DOC concentrations were almost two-fold more important than the estimated riverine DOC concentration....DOC export from mangroves is more than 2 trillion moles of carbon per year which is similar to the annual Amazon River discharge and nearly triples the amount estimated from previous smaller scale estimates of the carbon released to the oceans. According to these estimates, mangroves probably account for more than 10% of the DOC globally transported from the continents to the ocean while covering less than 0.1% of the continents.

Since mangroves play a major role for the dissolved organic matter (DOM) exchange between continents and oceans, their rapid decline over the recent decades may already have reduced the flux of terrestrial DOM to the ocean, impacting one of the largest organic carbon pools on Earth. Mangrove foliage, however, has declined by nearly half over the past several decades because of increasing coastal development and damage to its habitat. As the habitat has changed, ever-smaller quantities of mangrove-derived detritus are available for formation and export of dissolved organic matter to the ocean. The researchers speculate that the rapid decline in mangrove extent threatens the delicate balance and may eventually shut off the important link between the land and ocean, with potential consequences for atmospheric composition and climate.

Dittmar, T, et al., (2006) « Mangroves, a major source of dissolved organic carbon to the oceans », Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 20(1).
Contact:   Reported by EU Science for Environment Policy service

March 9, 2006 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Climate Change to Affect European Production of Bioenergy Crops

The EU Science for Environment service reported on bioenergy crop research:

Changes in European agricultural productivity and subsidy policies are expected to reduce land devoted to food production and make land available for bioenergy crop production.  Because European policy depends on increasing use of renewable energy, including bioenergy, research has been done to assess the impact of climate change on bioenergy crops.  Recent research indicates that southern Europe's ability to produce bioenergy crops will be severely reduced in the future unless Europe undertakes measures to adapt to climate change, such as breeding for temperature and drought tolerance and alternative agricultural practices such as early sowing.

Tuck Gill et al. (2006) « The potential distribution of bioenergy crops in Europe under present and future climate », Biomass and Bioenergy 30: 183–197.

Continue reading

March 9, 2006 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Guinea Warming at High Rate

According to New Scientist magazine, Michael Prentice of Plymouth State University has uncovered  previously unpublished meteorological data indicating that New Guinea is warming five times faster than the previous estimates of warming in the region. This finding is significant because the island is a paradise of undiscovered species in part because the highlands are among the most isolated places on Earth, rarely visited by local tribes and virtually invisible to satellites because of cloud cover.  The warming appears to be especially severe at the highest altitudes, about 20 times faster than estimated previously. The Mount Java glaciers have retreated 300 metres since the 1970s, an order of magnitude faster than before. Issue 2542 of New Scientist magazine, 11 March 2006, page 17 Article preview  Full article (subscription)

March 9, 2006 in Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Nanotechnology - nanotoxicity

DuPont scientists published a study recently indicating that inhalation of nanoparticles were not more toxic than larger fine sized particles. DuPont nanoparticle study  Other pulmonary toxicology studies demonstrate that nanoparticles administered to the lung are more toxic than larger, fine-sized particles of similar chemistry at identical mass concentrations.  As the scientists indicated,

The results described herein provide the first example of nanoscale particle-types which are not more cytotoxic or inflammogenic to the lung compared to larger-sized particles of similar composition. Furthermore, these findings run counter to the postulation that surface area is a major factor associated with the pulmonary toxicity of nanoscale particle-types.

March 9, 2006 in Physical Science, Toxic and Hazardous Substances | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

EU Commission Publishes Green Paper on Unified EU Energy Strategy

Yesterday, the European Commission published a Green Paper on developing a European Energy Policy. EU Energy Green Paper  The green paper will be reviewed by EU energy ministers on March 14 and by EU heads of state on March 23-24.  EU green papers are discussion papers, though, not concrete legislative proposals.  Nonetheless, since the EU has 50% more energy consumers than the US, everyone is watching as Europe attempts to develop an energy strategy.

Energy is a realm traditionally reserved to the national policy of EU member states.  Two previous green papers were largely ignored.  However, because the EU member states unanimously requested preparation of this third green paper, many hope that a unified European energy strategy is in the making.  Furthermore, a recent Eurobarometer poll indicated that a sizable majority of Europeans consider energy policy to be best handled at the EU level.  The green paper responds to this by proposing a new EU energy regulatory body, measures to complete the EU single energy market, energy efficiency measures, and research on renewable energy sources.

The green paper establishes sustainability, competitiveness, and supply security as the primary goals for European energy policy.  However, the emphasis of strategies in the paper is on the latter two as opposed to the environment.

The first priority is completion of the EU single market, currently liberalized to allow business to choose suppliers throughout the EU.  However, lack of interconnections and supply lines prevent completion of the market.  The green paper suggests an energy "grid" code, a priority European interconnection plan, i.e. constructing natural gas pipelines, a European energy regulatory agency, and mandatory unbundling of networks. 

The second priority is security of supply in the internal energy market and a commitment to "solidarity among member states." The green paper proposes a European Energy Supply Observatory and revision of the existing EU oil and gas legislation to deal with potential supply disruptions.

The third priority is external EU energy policy, including long-term agreements with Russia, which currently supplies most of EU's natural gas.

While the EU has had remarkable decreases in energy intensity and increases in GDP, EU energy demand and energy imports continue to grow.  Energy Demand, Intensity and GNP in EU25  Although EU energy efficiency is extremely high, the green paper on energy efficiency proposed improving it by 20%.

But overall the EU will need to move towards renewable energy sources.  According to the Eurobarometer polls, EU citizens favor solar and wind, with nuclear a very distant third.  Ironically, the green paper provided supporters of nuclear power with solace when it noted that national energy supply decisions (alluding to bans on nuclear power in Germany, Austria, Italy, Ireland, and Spain) can interfere with EU supply security and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Many EU citizens are willing to pay a small premium for renewable energy sources, up to 5%.  But that limited willingness to pay underscores the need for research and development that will provide renewable energy sources at prices that Europeans are willing to pay.

March 9, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, Legislation | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Pacific Marine Fisheries Council Votes to Protect Krill

The Pacific Fishery Management Council  unanimously approved a ban on netting krill in West Coast waters.  While California, Oregon, and Washington already ban krill netting, the federal ban would expand the area covered by the ban from 3 miles offshore to the entire 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone.  Krill numbers have fallen dramatically, which affects sea birds, marine mammals, salmon and squid that feed on krill.

March 9, 2006 in Biodiversity, Governance/Management, Legislation, North America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 6, 2006

Bighorns Benefitted from New Blood

Science reports on a study by Hogg et al., the "first detailed evidence" that endangered species still present in the wild (unlike the Kihansi toads) may benefit from introducing outsiders to rescue isolated populations.  As I recall, some time ago, scientists reported the same strategy was showing success with Florida panthers that had Texas panthers introduced to provide genetic variation.

Science report on Bighorns

For a population of animals spiraling towards extinction, things get bad before they get worse. Small numbers means fewer mate choices, more inbreeding, and less-healthy offspring. Scientists have "genetically rescued" such populations in captivity by introducing outsiders to freshen up the gene pool. Now, researchers report the first detailed evidence of a successful application of this strategy in the wild. The beneficiaries: a historically isolated flock of bighorn sheep in Montana.

The western United States was once swathed in herds of bighorns. But by 1922, domestic sheep diseases, hunting, and habitat loss had eliminated all sheep from places such as the National Bison Range (NBR) in northwestern Montana. In that year, wildlife managers hoping to nurse the NBR's bighorn population back to health transplanted 12 sheep from Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The herd waxed and waned in isolation until 1985, when scientists introduced new blood in the form of 5 rams from other herds in Montana and Wyoming. Over the next decade, 10 more sheep were introduced.

Conservation biologist John Hogg of the Montana Conservation Science Institute in Missoula and colleagues set out to evaluate the strategy's success... Their findings were dramatic: The most outbred rams--descendants of introduced sheep--fathered 2.6 times as many healthy lambs as did the most inbred rams, and the most outbred ewes gave birth to 2.2 times as many healthy lambs as their inbred counterparts did. Outbred females also produced lambs nearly a kilogram heavier than did inbred moms. "I was surprised at the magnitude of the effect," Hogg says.

The findings may influence the way wildlife managers look after small populations, says Hogg, whose team reported its findings online 28 February in Proceedings of the Royal Society: B. Managers often like to keep animals away from other populations to minimize the spread of disease, he says, but the study shows "it makes sense to manage with both disease and genetics in mind."

March 6, 2006 in Biodiversity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Levels of Pesticides in US Waters Won't Kill People But May Kill Fish

U.S. Geological Survey released a report last week describing the occurrence of pesticides in streams and ground water during 1992-2001. Pesticides were found frequently in streams but infrequently in  ground water.  Pesticides in streams are seldom at concentrations likely to affect humans. However, in streams draining urban and agricultural areas, pesticides were found at concentrations that may affect aquatic life or fish-eating wildlife.

Concentrations of individual pesticides were almost always lower than human health standards and guidelines.  However, pesticides may have substantially greater effects on aquatic ecosystems. More than 80 % of urban streams and more than 50 % of rural agricultural streams had concentrations in water of at least one pesticide—mostly those in use during the study period—that exceeded a water-quality benchmark for aquatic life. Water-quality benchmarks are estimates of concentrations above which pesticides may have adverse effects on human health, aquatic life, or fish-eating wildlife.

Insecticides, particularly diazinon, chlorpyrifos, and malathion frequently exceeded aquatic-life benchmarks in urban streams. Most urban uses of diazinon and chlorpyrifos, such as on lawns and gardens, have been phased out since 2001 because of use restrictions imposed by the EPA. Concentrations of these pesticides may have been declining in some urban streams even before 2001—benchmark exceedences declined late in the study. A case study of diazinon shows declining concentrations in several urban streams in the Northeast during 1998-2004.

In agricultural streams, the pesticides chlorpyrifos, azinphos-methyl, p,p’-DDE, and alachlor were among those most often found at concentrations that may affect aquatic life, with each being most important in areas where its use on crops is or was greatest.

DDT, dieldrin, and chlordane—organochlorine pesticide compounds no longer in use when the study began—were frequently detected in bed sediment and fish in urban and agricultural areas. Concentrations of these compounds in fish declined following reductions in their use during the 1960s and elimination of all uses in the 1970s and 1980s, and continue to slowly decline. But, these persistent organochlorine pesticides still occur at levels greater than benchmarks for aquatic life and fish-eating wildlife in many urban and agricultural streams across the Nation.


USGS also reported pesticides seldom occurred alone—but almost always as complex mixtures. Most stream samples and about half of the well samples contained two or more pesticides, and frequently more.  Scientists know little about the effects of pesticide mixtures, since most toxicity information and water-quality benchmarks used in this study, has been developed for individual chemicals. USGS indicated "The common occurrence of pesticide mixtures, particularly in streams, means that the total combined toxicity of pesticides in water, sediment, and fish may be greater than that of any single pesticide compound that is present. Studies of the effects of mixtures are still in the early stages, and it may take years for researchers to attain major advances in understanding the actual potential for effects. Our results indicate, however, that studies of mixtures should be a high priority."

Pesticides in the Nation's Streams and Ground Water 1992-2001 
In-depth information about the pesticide assessment may be found at: under "What’s New."

March 6, 2006 in Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

RIP: Dam(n)

ToadsIn two American zoos, 300 Kihansi spray toads, mustard-colored, fingernail-size amphibians from Tanzania, are the last remnants of a species a dam destroyed.
Link: CONSERVATION BIOLOGY: The Lost World of the Kihansi Toad

An excerpt of the Science report:

The Kihansi spray toad is 12,800 kilometers from home: Kihansi Gorge, in Tanzania's remote Udzungwa Mountains. For millions of years a great waterfall filled this gorge with perpetual spray and wind, creating a singular environment where the toad and other endemic creatures lived. In 2000, a hydropower dam cut off 90% of the water, and the ecosystem withered. Since then, scores of scientists in many disciplines have performed elaborate, unprecedented deeds to salvage the toad and its lost world. They have managed to raise the toads in captivity, documented the ecosystem's myriad responses to the dam, and engineered in the gorge what may be the world's largest sprinkler system. Their story shows that although human technology can easily upset nature, even the best science may not suffice to restore it.

Continue reading

March 6, 2006 in Biodiversity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Upcoming ABA SEER Environmental Science Teleconference

Session 5: Water Quality and Wastewater Treatment
Thursday, March 23, 2006

The speakers will discuss the science and technology of surface water quality and wastewater treatment, including watershed concepts, the measurement of water quality parameters, water quality requirements imposed by the Clean Water Act (e.g. ambient water quality criteria, NPDES permits and total maximum daily loads), point and non-point sources of surface water pollution and conventional and innovative water pollution control technologies used for treating municipal and industrial wastewater.

        Alexandra Dapolito Dunn , National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Washington, DC

Featured Speakers:
  W. Wesley Eckenfelder, P.E., D.Sc., D.E.E., Senior Technical Consultant, AquAeTer, Inc., Brentwood, TN
  William Hansard , President, Environmental Management Services, Inc. Brentwood, TN
  Stephen W. Hughes , P.E., TetraTech, Pittsburgh, PA
  Paul Marotta, P.E., AquAeTer, Inc., Brentwood, TN

Thursday, March 23, 2006:
  12:30 p.m.- 2:30 p.m. (Eastern)
11:30 a.m.- 1:30 p.m. (Central)
10:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. (Mountain)
9:30 a.m.- 11:30 a.m. (Pacific)

Program Brochure
View the Environmental Sciences program brochure at

March 6, 2006 in Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Come one and all to these Fall Conferences

HT: Ben Boer for reminding us of two additional important conferences

The fourth IUCN (World Conservation Union) Academy of Environmental Law Conference is on at Pace University this year:
4th Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium 
OCTOBER 16-20, 2006
Implementing Environmental Legislation:
The Critical Role of Enforcement and Compliance
Pace Law School
White Plains, New York, in partnership with INECE, UNEP and others
Pace Law School
White Plains, New York
See link:
Information about the Colloquium is available by contacting Lee Paddock at

The IUCN Academy Conference at Pace University will be followed by the Environmental Tax Conference.  A bus will go from Pace University to Ottawa.

The Seventh Annual Global Conference on Environmental Taxation

Instruments of Change for a Sustainable Economy
Oct 22-24 2006

Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, Canada
Hosted by the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law in partnership with the OECD
Sponsored by the University of Ottawa CGA Tax Research Centre and the Government of Canada


March 6, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Corps of Engineers -- set up to take the fall?

The Washington Post reports that the Corps is rushing to rebuild the levees, but two groups of experts, one group appointed by the National Science Foundation and one group appointed by Louisiana, are critical of the work being done.

Levee Fixes Falling Short, Experts Warn.

The Army Corps of Engineers seems likely to fulfill a promise by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans's toppled flood walls to their original, pre-Katrina height by June 1, but two teams of independent experts monitoring the $1.6 billion reconstruction project say large sections of the rebuilt levee system will be substantially weaker than before the hurricane hit.

These experts say the Corps, racing to rebuild 169 miles of levees destroyed or damaged by Katrina, is taking shortcuts to compress what is usually a years-long construction process into a few weeks. They say that weak, substandard materials are being used in some levee walls, citing lab tests as evidence. And they say the Corps is deferring repairs to flood walls that survived Katrina but suffered structural damage that could cause them to topple in a future storm.

March 6, 2006 in Governance/Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)