Saturday, August 5, 2006
At least some courts are willing to give "hard law" that requires ecological sustainability teeth. In City of Marina v. Board of Trustee of California State University, the California Supreme Court held that the state university trustees' duty under the California Environmental Quality
Act (CEQA) to mitigate the offsite environmental effects of a major
campus expansion was violated when the university planned to expand a small campus
on a former Army base into a major institution, but refused to mitigate off-campus impacts on drainage, water supply,
traffic, wastewater management, and fire protection and refused to share the cost of certain infrastructure
improvements proposed by the base's new civilian governing authority.
The court held that the mitigation requirement was not rendered infeasible by any state
constitutional or statutory restrictions on the trustees' funding of
such mitigation measures. It reasoned that the cost-sharing measures
proposed by the authority were not rendered infeasible by state
constitutional provisions prohibiting property taxation of state-owned
property and gifts of public funds to public agencies, nor were they
rendered infeasible by any uncertainty in the authority's ability to
obtain the necessary funding. The court further held that off-campus
mitigation was not exclusively the responsibility of the governing authority, but
was properly shared by the trustees. Finally, given the
feasibility of the proposed shared mitigation measures, the court held
that overriding circumstances did not justify the trustees'
certification of the EIR and approval of the proposed project. The court therefore held that the trustee's certification of the environmental
impact report (EIR), despite the remaining
unmitigated effects, was an abuse of discretion.
Westlaw link: City Of Marina v. Board Of Trustees Of The California State University, (Cal.)
Friday, August 4, 2006
Three articles published in Science provide background on glacial cycles. Those of you attempting to understand the science of global warming may want to check them out:
The episodic nature of Earth’s glacial and interglacial periods is believed to be caused by long-term changes in the amount of energy Earth receives from the Sun (insolation) and in seasonal variations driven by three major cycles: a 100,000-year eccentricity cycle (regular changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun), a 41,000-yr obliquity cycle (oscillations in the tilt of Earth’s axis), and a 23,000-year precession cycle (changes in the direction of Earth’s axis of rotation). Curiously, Earth’s glacial oscillations between 3 and 1 millions years ago have followed a 41,000-year cycle when the 20,000-year precessional effects should have been stronger. Two studies in the 28 Jul 2006 Science (published online 22 Jun) offered two new explanations for this paradox. Raymo et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/313/5786/492 ) argue that the early glacial cycles appear to have a 40,000-year cycle because the opposing 23,000-year insolation cycles in the Northern and Southern hemispheres may have canceled one another. Huybers ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/313/5786/508 ), on the other hand, maintain that ice age models have been incorrectly using peak summer insolation to estimate ice mass variability, when they should have instead used the integrated amount of solar energy received over the duration of the summer. An accompanying Perspective by D. Paillard ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/313/5786/455 ) lent historical context to these new arguments.
Sometimes its hard to keep things in perspective. The rumor is flying around the blogosphere that the environmental situation in Lebanon is as serious as the Exxon Valdez spill. Although Exxon Valdez taught us a lot about how long-lasting the natural resources damages from oil spills can be, I would not analogize a 110,000 barrel spill to an 11 million barrel spill. As the graphic below illustrates the Exxon Valdez spill extended about 470 miles -- which my metrically challenged brain thinks is roughly 750 kilometers -- greater than the length of this slick by a factor of 10.
Environmental Disaster Looms; Oil spill threatens Mediterranean after power plant hit; Cleanup along Lebanon's coast can't begin until fighting ends
BEIRUT — Endangered turtles die shortly after hatching from their eggs. Fish float dead off the coast. Flaming oil sends waves of black smoke toward the city.
In this country of Mediterranean beaches and snow-capped mountains,
Israeli bombing that caused an oil spill has created an environmental
disaster. And cleanup can't start until the
fighting stops, the United Nations said.
Pools of oil disfigure a beach in the bay of Byblos, 42 kms north of Beirut. Lebanon's greens launched an international appeal for help to combat an environmental crisis caused by a huge oil spill south of Beirut, more than two weeks into an Israeli air war.(AFP/File/Nicolas Asfouri)
World attention has focused on the hundreds of people
who have died in
the three-week-old conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The
environmental damage has attracted little attention but experts warn
the long-term effects could be devastating.
Some 110,000 barrels of oil poured into the Mediterranean two weeks ago
after Israeli warplanes hit a coastal power plant. One tank is still
burning, sending clouds of thick black smoke across Lebanon.
Compounding the problem is an Israeli naval blockade and continuing
military operations that have made any cleanup impossible.
"The immediate impact can be severe but we have not been able to do
assessment," said Achim Steiner, executive director
of United Nations Environment Program, in Geneva. "But the longer the spill is left untreated, the harder it will be to clean up." The oil has slicked about one third of Lebanon's coast, an 80-kilometre stretch centred on the Jiyeh plant, about 20 kilometres south of Beirut, Lebanese Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf said. It has also drifted out into the Mediterranean, already hitting neighbouring Syria. Experts warn that Cyprus, Turkey and even Greece could be affected.
So this is why we hear so much about governance! An empirical study by Pellegrini and Gerlagh, published in the Journal of Environment and Development, suggests that higher environmental standards are more likely to follow increased rates of economic growth when there governance improvements as well (democratic institutions, lack of corruption). It makes some sense -- otherwise the increasing wealth simply gets diverted into the pockets of government officials who don't care about environmental standards.<>
Theoretical and empirical studies have shown that democracy and corruption influence environmental policies. In this article, the authors empirically analyze the relative importance of these determinants of environmental policy. When these variables are jointly included as explanatory variables in a multiple regression analysis, the authors found that corruption stands out as a substantial and significant determinant of environmental policies, while proxies for democracy have an insignificant impact. Nevertheless, democracy could affect environmental policy stringency given that countries with a history of democratic rule tend to be less corrupted. The authors argue that improving environmental quality following increasing income is less probable in developing countries with institutional disarray. Finally, and more optimistically, when considering the results in the context of institutions and growth, the authors conclude that there is scope for reaping a double dividend, when institutional improvements and reductions in corruption induce higher economic growth rates and stricter environmental policies.>
Science has a policy forum article by Crowder and colleagues, Resolving Mismatches in U.S. Ocean Governance, that argues for marine spatial planning with comprehensive ocean zoning as the solution to fragmented governance as well as spatial and temporal mismatches between ocean ecosystems and governance mechanisms. Its not a new analysis, but it succinctly states the problem and a solution, without requiring students to read the Executive Summaries of the Pew and U.S. ocean commissions. [ocean governance article]
That the oceans are in serious trouble is no longer news. Fisheries are declining, formerly abundant species are now rare, food webs are altered, and coastal ecosystems are polluted and degraded. Invasive species and diseases are proliferating and the oceans are warming. Because these changes are largely due to failures of governance, reversing them will require new, more effective governance systems.
Historically, ocean management has focused on individual sectors. In the United States, at least 20 federal agencies implement over 140 federal ocean-related statutes. This is like a scenario in which a number of specialist physicians, who are not communicating well, treat a patient with multiple medical problems. The combined treatment can exacerbate rather than solve problems. Separate regimes for fisheries, aquaculture, marine mammal conservation, shipping, oil and gas, and mining are designed to resolve conflicts within sectors, but not across sectors. Decision-making is often ad hoc, and no one has clear authority to resolve conflicts across sectors or to deal with cumulative effects. Many scientists are now convinced that the solution can be found in ecosystem-based management. Ecosystem-based management focuses on managing the suite of human activities that affect particular places. This is a marked departure from the current approach. The time has come to consider a more holistic approach to place-based management of marine ecosystems, comprehensive ocean zoning.
Management regimes for individual sectors operate under different legal mandates and reflect the interests of different stakeholders, so governance is riddled with gaps and overlaps. Fishing has a larger impact on biological diversity than any other human activity, but the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs fisheries, contains no mandate to maintain biodiversity. Ecosystem-based fisheries management is only a partial solution--it does not account for impacts on nontarget species or manage other activities that degrade fisheries, such as pollution or wetlands loss. The problem of fragmented governance is growing, as new place-based activities in the sea [e.g., aquaculture, wind farms, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals] are increasing the potential range and severity of conflicts across sectors.
Science 4 August 2006:
Vol. 313. no. 5787, pp. 617 - 618
August 4, 2006 in Biodiversity, Governance/Management, International, Law, Physical Science, Social Science, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Think twice before you crank up that air conditioner--you just may be contributing to the heat. The fossil fuels that are burned to power our air conditioners fill the skies with the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, leading to a warmer world--but the warming won't be enough to lessen heating needs in winter, according to a new climate model. The model is the first to show directly how climate change drives energy use, and the findings could make it easier for policymakers to qualitatively link energy policies to climate change.
Climate researchers typically model Earth on huge supercomputers. A standard experiment might look at the planet between the years 1800 and 2100, tweaking the carbon dioxide levels, sunlight, or cloud cover to understand precisely how these variables affect global and local temperatures. These climate models can suggest what would happen if there were slightly less carbon dioxide in the air, or if there were significantly more snowfall in the Arctic, but they have no way to link economic factors such as increased electricity use to climate change: a 2 degree rise in summer temperatures, for example.
In the August issue of Geophysical Research Letters, David Erickson, a geophysicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and colleagues in geophysics and economics make the connection. The team took temperature predictions for the years 2000 to 2025 from a standard climate model and plugged them into the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) developed by the Department of Energy. The program calculates energy consumption due to heating and air conditioning by dividing the United States up by county and taking into account local climate, typical building styles, and the fuel sources for electricity and heat used in each locale. Part of the result was predictable: Carbon dioxide emissions will rise as more coal is burned when the southern and western United States crank up the air conditioning during their ever warmer summers. But the rest was surprising: The northeast didn't necessarily have warmer winters and, furthermore, tended to use heating oil or natural gas instead of coal-fired electricity for heat. The net result was a rise in carbon dioxide emissions over the 25 years.
The combination of regional climate modeling with state of the art economic modeling "makes this study the first of its kind," says Tom Wilbanks, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and chair of the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on the Human Dimension of Global Climate Change, who was not involved in the study. The team says the next step is to feed the carbon dioxide trend back into the economic model to see whether ever warmer temperatures lead to ever more air conditioner use.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
In a replay of the beginning of the Great Depression, more than 60 percent of the United States now has abnormally dry or drought conditions. The drought stretches from Georgia to Arizona and across the north through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin. Brad Rippey, a USDA meteorologist in Washington, said this year's drought is continuing one that started in the late 1990s. "The 1999 to 2006 drought ranks only behind the 1930s and the 1950s. It's the third-worst drought on record." Mark Svoboda, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, was reluctant to say how bad the current drought might eventually be. "We'll have to wait to see how it plays out - but it's definitely bad...and the drought seems to not be going anywhere soon." See Seattle PI report
In addition to ranchers losing their herds and farmers losing their crops, farm ponds and other small bodies of water have dried out from the heat, leaving the residual alkali dust to be whipped up by the wind. The blowing, dirt-and-salt mixture is a phenomenon that hasn't been seen in south central North Dakota since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
The Bush administration is toting up quite a foreign policy record: Iraq, Lebanon and now the ever-supportive Tony Blair prefers diplomatic ties to California and major US cities to those with the federal government:
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles, London, New York, Seoul and 18 other cities joined forces on Tuesday in a global warming project aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Launched by former President Bill Clinton's foundation, the initiative will allow cities to pool their purchasing power and lower the price of energy-saving products and provide technical assistance to help them become more energy efficient. Urban areas are responsible for more than 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, making reduced energy crucial in the effort to slow the pace of global warming. Energy-efficient traffic lights, street lighting, the use of biofuels for city transport, and traffic congestion schemes were some of the practical steps that cities are expected to take to reduce greenhouse gases. "The world's largest cities can have a major impact on this. Already they are at the center of developing the technologies and innovative new practices that provide hope that we can radically reduce carbon emissions," said London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who launched the initiative in Los Angeles with Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Clinton Foundation said it hoped that coordination between major cities will boost efforts now being made by some areas on an individual basis. The partnership with the foundation began with the participation of 22 cities -- Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Caracas, Chicago, Delhi, Dhaka, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Rome, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Toronto and Warsaw.
Here's another entry in the world's best global warming films contest! The current contestants are Brokaw's Global Warming, Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and now The Great Warming. For my earlier review of the former two, see 7/2/06 Movie Review: Brokaw and Gore. I reviewed Brokaw based on a screening copy: now everyone wants to know where to get one.
The Great Warming is a film documentary, produced by Stonehenge, sponsored by Swiss Re, narrated by Alanis Morissette and Keanu Reeves, and aired this spring in Canada by the Discovery Channel. It was screened in Salem today at First Congregational Church, U.C.C.
The Great Warming is a relatively comprehensive look at global warming science, with plenty of experts. It documents the impacts of far more modest El Nino events on Peruvian fishing villages, the incredible difficulties facing nations like Bangladesh that lie 80% within the flood plain, the impact that adding another 4 billion people will have on energy use, and the pressing need for China, India, Brazil and other developing countries to adopt a better energy path than the disasterous fossil fuel path that developed countries have followed. It provides plenty of scenic photography, discussion of innovative technologies, and practical solutions.
The Great Warming also has a particularly interesting slant. It highlights, in particular, the growing concern in the American Evangelical community about global warming. It has received endorsements from Rev. Richard Cizik for the National Association of Evangelicals [Rev. Richard Cizik ], Paul de Vries, Dean, New York Divinity School [New York Divinity School], Fr. Jon-Stephen Hedges [St. Athanasius Orthodox Church], the National Council of Churches, Evangelical Environmental Network and the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life.
The film contains frank, hard-hitting comments from scientists, health providers, and other opinion-makers taking America’s leadership to task for failing to address what is certainly the most critical environmental issue of the 21st century. The film analogizes the current era of Great Warming to the era of the Great Depression. And reminds us that our children and grandchildren will ask why we didn't do something about it.
This film does discuss the faith perspective, which may not be satisfactory for all students. But, it is a great primer on global warming science, the impacts of climate change, and possible solutions.
THE GREAT WARMING
So, what is the bottom line. Except for the evangelical angle, I'd chose the Great Warming over the other two. But, given law student reaction to anything that smacks of spirituality or religion, I still think Gore did the best job with the science.
August 2, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The good news is that simply gene exchange may not cause H5N1 to trigger a pandemic. The bad news is that there are other ways that it could evolve into a pandemic virus. Nature story on bird flu ferret experiment Nature 442, 490-491(3 August 2006) | doi:10.1038/442490b; Published online 2 August 2006
Researchers have tried to create a pandemic H5N1 influenza strain — and failed. Simply mixing genes from an H5N1 bird-flu strain with those from an H3N2 human strain did not result in a strain that was readily transmissible, at least among ferrets. The scientists who conducted the work, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, say it suggests that the H5N1 virus will require a complex series of genetic changes to evolve into a pandemic strain. "These data do not mean that H5N1 cannot convert to become transmissible from person to person," says Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC. "We are not out of the woods on pandemic preparedness yet." Others agree, pointing out that there are many ways a pandemic strain could evolve. For instance, strains other than those used in the experiments could get together. "They need to look at other viruses, because both human and avian flu continue to evolve," says Frederick Hayden, a flu specialist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, who is currently working with the World Health Organization. Since 1997, millions of domestic and wild birds have died owing to the H5N1 strain of flu. It has infected at least 232 people and killed 134 of them. Scientists are worried that H5N1 will learn to pass easily between humans and kill millions more. In 1957 and 1968, pandemic strains of flu seem to have emerged when bird and human flu viruses exchanged genes, allowing the bird-flu virus to be easily transmitted between people. To test whether H5N1 might do easily to others. And even if they did pass on the virus, the other ferrets did not become fatally ill. The findings seem to indicate that the recombined viruses were less deadly than the original H5N1 strain and unlikely to transfer to other animals, the scientists say. They hope to repeat the experimentsthis, the CDC scientists used a technique called reverse genetics to snip genes out of H3N2 and H5N1 viruses and recombine them into hybrid bird–human viruses. They infected ferrets with the hybrids and tested whether the animals got sick and transferred the viruses to other ferrets (T. R. Maines et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi:10/1073/ pnas.0605134103; 2006). Ferrets infected with hybrid viruses did not get as sick as those infected with the original H5N1 virus. In addition, the ferrets did not pass the hybrid virus to test the pandemic potential of other viruses — including those taken from patients after 1997, the year that the H5N1 strain they used was isolated. "We believe this model is a good tool to assess the potential of H5N1 viruses to cause a pandemic in the future," says Jacqueline Katz of the CDC, who led the work. Many questions remain unanswered, however. The ferret model may not perfectly replicate human disease, say scientists not involved in the experiments. Nor does the study address whether H5N1 could evolve into a pandemic strain by accumulating mutations if it passed through many people. It also did not test hybrids with human flu viruses other than H3N2. "The attention being paid to pandemic preparedness is certainly appropriate, and the results shouldn't dissuade people from continuing to progress in that area," says Hayden.
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August 2, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, July 31, 2006
Five years ago I went to northern India and stayed in tiger country. I never saw a tiger. The villagers in the area I stayed reported one night that a tiger was on the prowl. I ventured into a national park that was closed because of tiger poachers -- I was escorted by a ranger. He showed me where they live and the ungulates that are tiger food. Just to be in an area where tigers roam was exciting and a bit of an adrenaline rush. I hope to return and spend time with tigers some time in the future. Unfortunately, I may not make it in time. Tigers are disappearing at a tremendous rate, as the results of this study make clear.
The most comprehensive scientific study of tiger habitats ever done finds that the big cats reside in 40 percent less habitat than they were thought to a decade ago. The tigers now occupy only 7 percent of their historic range. The report and related materials can be downloaded at www.tigermaps.org
This landmark study, commissioned by the Save The Tiger Fund and produced by some of the world's leading tiger scientists at World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and Save The Tiger Fund, calls for specific international actions to safeguard remaining populations. The study finds that conservation efforts such as protection from poaching, preservation of prey species, and preservation of tigers' natural habitat have resulted in some populations remaining stable and even increasing. But it concludes that long-term success is only achieved where there is a broad landscape-level conservation vision with buy-in from stakeholders.
"This report documents a low-water mark for tigers, and charts a way forward to reverse the tide," said John Robinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "We can save tigers forever. However, tiger conservation requires commitment from local partners, governments and international donors, along with effective, science-based conservation efforts to bring the species back to all parts of its biological range."
Synthesizing land use information, maps of human influence, and on-the-ground evidence of tigers, this study identifies 76 "tiger conservation landscapes" -- places and habitats that have the best chance of supporting viable tiger populations into the future. Large carnivore populations like tigers are highly vulnerable to extinction in small and isolated reserves. Half the 76 landscapes can still support 100 tigers or more, providing excellent opportunities for recovery of wild tiger populations. The largest tiger landscapes exist in the Russian Far East and India. Southeast Asia also holds promise to sustain healthy tiger populations although many areas have lost tigers over the last 10 years.
"As tiger range spans borders, so must tiger conservation," said Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist and vice president of conservation science at World Wildlife Fund. "Asia's economic growth should not come at the expense of tiger habitat and the natural capital it protects."
The group's key conclusion from the study is that to safeguard remaining tigers, increased protection of the 20 highest priority tiger conservation landscapes is required. The group also stands ready to support the 13 countries with tigers in a regional effort to save the species. The report's authors suggest that the heads of state of those countries convene a "tiger summit" to elevate tiger conservation on their countries' agendas.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
The US blocks a UN resolution deploring the Qana attack, softening the language. The US opposes an immediate, unconditional cease-fire. Lebanon says thanks, but no thanks to a visit by US Secr. of State Rice. Deadly Israeli Air Strike
July 30, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)