Monday, February 26, 2007

Spirit of the Eagle

This blog is devoted principally to the professional or academic aspects of environmental law, policy, science, and ethics.  But like any blogger, I do have a life.  Anyone interested in the slightly less academic side of me is welcome to visit Spirit of the Eagle, my personal blog.

February 26, 2007 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 | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Economics of Global Warming

The world would have to give up only one year's economic growth over the next four decades to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to  stave off the threat of global warming. Consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers offer a "green growth plus" strategy, combining energy efficiency, greater use of renewables and carbon capture to cut emissions by 60% by 2050 from the level reached by doing nothing. Nuclear energy, it says, can play a role, but it is not crucial.

This scenario, which involves little real sacrifice in terms of economic growth, could be achieved only if embarked upon without delay.  "If countries adopt a 'business as usual' approach, the result could be a more than doubling of global carbon emissions by 2050," said John Hawksworth, head of macroeconomics at PwC.  "Our analysis suggests that there are technologically feasible and relatively low cost options for controlling carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that the level of GDP might be reduced by no more than 2-3% in 2050 if this strategy is followed."

PwC envisages the Group of Seven leading economies taking the initiative, cutting their emissions by about half by 2050, while the fast-growing E7 countries - China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey - could still increase their emissions by 30% over the period.   The PwC projections see China overtaking the United States as the world's biggest emitter of CO2 by 2010 while total E7 emissions would be more than double G7 emissions by 2050, with the "big three" - China, the US and India - accounting for just over half, up from 45% today.  The European Union could cut its share of global emissions to under 9% by 2050 from 15% now, while Britain's should fall to 1% from 2%.

A shift to a much less carbon-intensive fuel mix would more than double the current non-fossil fuel primary energy share to about 30% by 2050. That alone would be sufficient to reduce carbon emissions by 25%. PwC's view that renewables could do the job without having to use nuclear technology could undermine Tony Blair's argument that atomic power is crucial.  Increasing energy efficiency gains to 2.6% a year from today's 1.6% would reduce emissions by a third, while carbon capture and storage - pumping power station emissions into disused gas fields underground - could achieve a further 20%.  The report says a combination of all these measures will be necessary to stabilise global CO2 levels at 450 parts per million, the figure scientific opinion judges to be broadly acceptable.

http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange
/story0,,1883753,00.html


September 29, 2006 in Africa, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, North America, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 8, 2006

Dynamite Quick Reference for Students

Tomorrow the Economist will publish its survey on climate change  "The Heat is On." Economist link  I heartily recommend it for anyone who wants to bring their students or themselves quickly up to speed regarding the science, technology, economics, and law of climate change  -- about 15 pages, incorporating much of the climate research I have blogged this year.   As of yesterday, you can buy a PDF for $5 (or read/print each article in the online version if you have an Economist online subscription). 

September 8, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 4, 2006

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.

Exxon_valdez_spill

AP report:
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 an 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.


Continue reading

August 4, 2006 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Movie Review: The Great Warming

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
www.thegreatwarming.com

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)

Welcome to Environmental Law Prof Blog

WELCOME to Environmental Law Prof Blog.  Please feel free to use this post as an open thread to raise issues relevant to environmental law, policy, science, and ethics.                                                                        

The royalties from this blog and my other professional royalties are devoted to assuring that everyone in the world has clean safe drinking water.  This is my part helping meet the Millenium Development Goals.  Our children's children will thank you if you find a way to achieve the MDGs.  Even now, they are watching.... Eyes_hispanic_1

Find YOUR way to make the Millenium Development Goals reality!

Places to Start:
ONE: www.one.org
MILLENIUM PROMISE: www.millenniumpromise.org
MILLENIUM CAMPAIGN: www.millenniumcampaign.org

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)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

No Comment Required

Lebanon_qana_rubble_3

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 StrikeDove_w_1

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)

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Shell States Moral Objection to Biofuel from Food Crops

 

Planet Ark World Environmental News:

Royal Dutch Shell, the worlds top marketer of biofuels, considers using food crops to make biofuels "morally inappropriate" as long as there are people in the world who are starving...Eric G Holthusen, Fuels Technology Manager Asia/Pacific, said the company's research unit, Shell Global Solutions, has developed alternative fuels from renewable resources that use wood chips and plant waste rather than food crops that are typically used to make the fuels...Holthusen said his company's participation in marketing biofuels extracted from food was driven by economics or legislation."If we have the choice today, then we will not use this route....We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy we use food and turn it into fuel. This is not what we would like to see. But sometimes economics force you to do it."

<>

The world's top commercially produced biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel.  Ethanol, mostly used in the United States and Brazil, is produced from sugar cane and beets and can also be derived from grains such as corn and wheat. Biodiesel, used in Europe, is extracted from the continent's predominant oil crop, rapeseed, and can also be produced from palm and coconut.

<>

Holthusen said Shell has been working on biofuels that can be extracted from plant waste and wood chips, but he did not say when the alternative biofuel might be commercially available...

Shell, in partnership with Canadian biotech firm Iogen Corp., has developed "cellulose ethanol", which is made from the wood chips and non-food portion of renewable feedstocks such as cereal straws and corn stover, and can be blended with gasoline.

 

July 6, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The Millenium Village Experiment

There are many obstacles to achieving the Millenium Development Goals, pessimism, inadequate financing, corruption, armed conflict, political and social instability, and global warming among them.  But a recent Nature editorial on Jeffrey Sachs' Millenium Village project highlights the lack of data, analysis, and learning that has plagued development efforts.  The Millenium Village project hopes to overcome that obstacle.  The Nature editorial underscores the significance of the MVP data collection and analysis effort:

    The issues that hinder development in sub-Saharan Africa are many and complex, but one factor that stands out for scientists is the dearth of reliable data on the decades of development projects there.
    A lack of information on what has worked and what hasn't has contributed to a lack of accountability among donor nations, host nations and even development professionals. Donors in particular have learnt little from past mistakes, and are impatient. When a project fails, as so many do, the tendency has been to move straight on to the next idea.

When a project fails, the tendency has been to move straight on to the next idea.

<>

    Development specialists know this, and today data and analysis are prized. In this issue we examine the early progress of one notable experiment in Africa. It involves the support of 12 African Millennium Research Villages, which are receiving a package of interventions, at a maximum cost of US$110 per person per year, tailored to lift them out of poverty and onto a sustainable path.
    The approach has won support from the African governments involved and from private philanthropists, who have pledged $100 million to a charity, called Millennium Promise, that aims to expand the programme to an additional 78 villages in the next year.
    The administrators of the village projects intend to measure 27 important indicators of project performance, mainly by closely monitoring the progress of some 300 households in each village.
    They hope to learn three things: whether each intervention works, whether the links between various interventions can be exploited, and whether the community is ultimately better placed to manage its own future. This last involves 'softer' measures of capacity and sustainability, and will be the hardest both to monitor and to achieve.
    It is early days yet — the longest-running project, at Sauri in Kenya, is just two years old — and few hard data are available so far. But it is crucial that the schemes deliver on their research goals and that they absorb lessons, positive or negative, from the data.

Continue reading

July 5, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Economics, Governance/Management, Sustainability, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 3, 2006

WELCOME

WELCOME to Environmental Law Prof Blog.  Please feel free to use this post as an open thread to raise issues relevant to environmental law, policy, science, and ethics.                                                                           

The royalties from this blog and my other professional royalties are devoted to assuring that everyone in the world has clean safe drinking water.  This is my part helping meet the Millenium Development Goals.  Our children's children will thank you if you find a way to achieve the MDGs.  Even now, they are watching.... Eyes_hispanic_1

Find YOUR way to make the Millenium Development Goals reality.

Places to Start:
ONE: www.one.org
MILLENIUM PROMISE: www.millenniumpromise.org
MILLENIUM CAMPAIGN: www.millenniumcampaign.org

July 3, 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)

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Movie Reviews: Tom Brokaw's Global Warming: What You Need to Know and Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth

On July 16, 2006, 9-11 pm ET/PT, Discovery Channel, BBC News and NBC News present a two hour special on global warming hosted by Tom Brokaw.

On Friday, I previewed the Discovery Channel special and saw An Inconvenient Truth.  Below I review both from a teaching perspective.

The bottom line of both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth are the same -- global warming is threatening to massively change our planet with severe impacts on our lives and the rest of creation; we have the knowledge and technology to reduce those changes; the real question is whether we have the collective will to do what we need to do before it is too late.

Both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth seek to acquaint the audience with the fundamentals about global warming: the causes of global warming, the evidence that convinces scientists why this is not simply part of a natural cycle of warming and cooling, the magnitudes of impacts that we can expect,  the technical solutions that can slow global warming, the outrageously large contribution of the U.S. to the problem, and the loomingly enormous potential of China and India if they pursue our development path.

Neither program makes the mistake of trying to be "balanced" in presenting the "skeptics" point of view.  Brokaw notes the change in scientific opinion over the last two decades and the agreement of 99.9% of scientists that global warming is real.  Gore uses the results of the sample of scientific literature on climate -- where the score is roughly 978 to 0 -- every study assumed that global warming is occurring.

Global Warming is a powerful statement in three respects.  First, it is presented by a respected journalist rather than a respected, but partisan, politician.  Second, it has an absolutely amazing, all star cast of scientists to help narrate the story.  Third, it has some great footage of glacial rivers, rainforests, pacific islands doomed to disappear, and most of all, cute, little polar bear cubs who, along with the rest of their species, are destined to die within the next few decades as the polar ice disappears.

An Inconvenient Truth, on the other hand, has other wonderful qualities.  First, it gains traction from Al Gore's droll sense of humor (yes, really) as well as his deep, visible commitment to the issue.  Second, it has some incrediblely vivid footage interspersed between the Gore narrative of his life and the Gore global warming slideshow.  Third, it conveys the scientific information in more depth, addressing the questions that people have, and illustrating answers with extremely sharp graphics on how temperature tracks CO2, the 650,000 year natural cycles of both temperature and CO2 and how dramatically the present CO2 levels and temperature exceed historical levels, how hurricanes and other natural storms gain intensity from warming temperatures, how global warming can bring both droughts and floods, how El Nino works, how the ocean conveyor belt works, and how the North America glacier melt affected Europe's climate.  Fourth, it has some unforgettable visual models of the 2002 collapse of Larson B in Antarctica and what will happen to sea level in NY, Florida, Shanghai, Bangladesh, and elsewhere if either a significant portion of Greenland or Antarctica melts [in the only obvious scientific error of the movie, Gore mixed up the sea level change expected from Greenland melting with that of the Antarctic].

So, which one would I have my students see?  Both...they both have unique aspects that are worth a student's while.  I'd give An Inconvenient Truth an edge on content, but only if students can get past the fact that An Inconvenient Truth is a great commercial for why we should all wish that the Supreme Court had selected Al Gore, instead of George Bush as our President.

What I wish someone would do is blend both -- take Gore's slideshow, the great scenic footage from both, the Hansen discussion and other scientists from Brokaw and put them together...but, lacking that, see them both!


Continue reading

July 2, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Oregon State Rules!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Global Warming Attitudes

Americans express relatively little concern over global warming, especially when compared with publics of other major nations. Barely half of the Americans who have heard of global warming say they personally worry about the issue a great deal (19%) or a fair amount (34%). Nearly as many say they worry only a little (26%) or not at all (21%). The Japanese express the highest level of concern over global warming among the publics of major industrialized nations. Fully 66% of Japanese say they worry about this a great deal, while another 27% say they worry a fair amount. In France, a combined 87% express a great deal (46%) or fair amount
(41%) of concern. Roughly the same percentage in Spain (85%) says they worry at least a fair amount about global warming.  Smaller percentages in Great Britain (67%) and Germany (64%) voice significant concern about global warming. The American public is deeply divided politically in
concerns over global warming. Only about a third of Republicans (34%) say they worry a great deal (10%) or a fair amount (24%) over global warming, based on those who have heard about the issue. About two-thirds of Democrats (66%) and 57% of independents express at least a fair amount of concern over global warming. Roughly four-in-ten white evangelical
Protestants (41%) express have at least a fair amount of concern
about global warming; that compares with 53% of white mainline Protestants, and 64% of seculars.  Pew Global Attitudes Survey

June 21, 2006 in Africa, Asia, Climate Change, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, North America, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

World Scientists Address Disease Surveillance and Energy

The national science academies of 12 nations [G8 nations, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa] issued two joint statements to the leaders of the G8 countries who meet at their annual summit in Russia next month. One endorses reinvention of the world's disease surveillance system; the other urges major expansion of energy research to address the global crisis in energy supplies.

<>

The academies argue that global efforts in both infectious diseases and energy sourcing are tremendously inadequate given the scale of the problems. Current systems of national and international disease surveillance are fragmented and uncoordinated.  The world needs a tightly coordinated global system with animal and human health experts working closely together, in light of the bird flu and other pandemic threats that we are likely to face.  Similarly, the academies argue that G8 must address serious inadequacies in funding and incentives for energy research.

    In particular, the academies recommend:

Reinventing disease surveillance

Efforts to coordinate disease surveillance across national and international agencies and research bodies

Independent audit to recommend how to develop global surveillance

Research into more rapid vaccine production methods

Greater cooperation between human- and animal-health communities

Better collection and sharing of clinical and epidemiological data Investing in energy R&D

Investing in energy R&D

Highlight 'reality and urgency' of global energy supply

Big, long-term infrastructure investments in cheap, clean, sustainable energies

Boost developing countries' capacity in innovative energy technologies

Incentives to develop clean fossil, nuclear and renewable technologies

Focus public research and technology efforts on energy efficiency, non-conventional hydrocarbons and clean coal, innovative nuclear power, distributed power systems, renewable energy sources, and biomass production.

The academies' statements seek to build on the seeming influence that their statements had last year on G8 commitments for African aid.

The joint statements are described in more detail and linked below.
<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/[environment]" rel="tag">[environment]</a>

Continue reading

June 21, 2006 in Africa, Asia, Climate Change, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

WHO links 25% of all disease to environmental degradation

WHO reports that 13 million deaths annually and nearly a quarter of all disease worldwide—including 33 percent of illnesses in children under age five—are due to environmental causes that could be avoided or prevented.  The four main diseases caused by environmental factors are diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, various forms of unintentional injuries, and malaria. These disease could be prevented by providing safe drinking and domestic water supplies, promoting better hygiene, using cleaner and safer fuels, reduced use and better management of use of toxic substances, and better water resource management.  The report
"shows very clearly the gains that would accrue both to public health and to the general environment by a series of straightforward, coordinated investments. We call on ministries of health, environment and other partners to work together to ensure that these environmental and public health gains become a reality." Video message by Dr. Maria Neira, Director, Public Health and Environment, World Health Organization

WHO report - Preventing disease through healthy environments: Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease



June 21, 2006 in Africa, Air Quality, Asia, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Science of Global Warming: Are we reaching the "tipping points?"

Gabrielle Walker reported in Nature last week on whether we are reaching the tipping point in climate change.  The phrase "global warming" suggests to the uninitiated a gentle, linear increase in temperature with predictable linear effects on the earth.  But both the complex system that is climate, and the more subtle and difficult to identify biological systems affected by climate, cannot be captured by neat linear equations.  They have non-linearities: cliffs that are points of no return and tipping points when internal dynamics start to propel changes and small changes produce exponential impacts.  See Real Science post on tipping points. (tipping point post)  Are there tipping points or cliffs in climate change?  When will they be reached?  When and if they are reached, are they not just tipping points, but cliffs -- points of no return? 

Although there's no strong evidence that the climate as a whole has a point beyond which it switches neatly into a new pattern, individual parts of the system could be in danger of changing state quickly, and perhaps irretrievably. And perhaps the most striking of these vulnerable components are in the Arctic. Farthest north is the carapace of sea ice over the Arctic Ocean. South of that is the vast ice sheet that covers Greenland. And then there is the ocean conveyor belt, which originates in a small region of the Nordic seas and carries heat and salt around the world.  All three seem to have inbuilt danger zones that may deserve to be called tipping points. And the outside forces pushing them towards those points are gathering.

Even as it published the piece on tipping points, Nature noted in its editorial that there are dangers in focusing on those concepts:

there are three dangers attendant on focusing humanity's response to the climate crisis too much on tipping points. The first is the uncertainty of the science; the second is the tendency of such an emphasis to distort our responses; the third is the danger of fatalism.

The models through which our understanding of the climate system are channelled into assessments of how it might behave in the future are impressive by the standards of human investigation, but crude with respect to the details of the Earth system. All sorts of phenomena, from the formation of clouds to the respiration of soils, are hard to capture accurately, and it is on such details that an understanding of possible tipping points depends. Anyone claiming to know for sure when a particular tipping point will be reached should be treated with suspicion — and so must anyone who suggests that no tipping point will ever be reached.

The second problem is that an emphasis on tipping points not yet reached increases the focus on the future. Such an increase tips the balance away from adapting to climate change and in favour of trying to avoid it. A rational response to the challenge of the twenty-first century's climate is to do both: to reduce the rate at which greenhouse gases force climate change, but at the same time build up the ability to cope with adverse climates.

The third issue is that tipping points can induce fatalism. The concept may encourage the belief that a complete solution is the only worthwhile one, as any other course may allow the climate system to tumble past the crucial threshold. This sort of all-or-nothing approach is already over-stressed in climate policy by the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which calls for the complete avoidance of dangerous anthropogenic climate change, rather than the more reasonable and more feasible goal of minimizing and controlling it.

Continue reading

June 19, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 3, 2006

The Science of Global Warming: Surface Water Availability Declines More Rapidly Than Mean Rainfall So Surface Water Supplies Will Drop Across 25% of Africa By the End of the Century

Changes in Surface Water Supply Across Africa with Predicted Climate Change

DeWit and Stankiewicz report in Science that surface water drainage (supply) has a non-linear relationship to rainfall in Africa.  A 10% drop in rainfall in an area with 40 inches (1000mm) of rain will reduce surface water drainage by 17%.   The same 10% drop in rainfall in an area with 20 inches (500mm) of rain will reduce surface water drainage by 50%.  So the rainfall reductions associated with  climate change will affect areas with intermediate rainfall most dramatically.  Deserts may become uninhabitable, but areas of moderate rainfall will  lose enormous quantities of their surface water supplies.  DeWit and Stankiewicz estimate that surface water access will be reduce across 25% of Africa by the end of this century.

    Abstract: Across Africa, perennial drainage density as a function of mean annual rainfall defines three regimes separated by threshold values of precipitation. This non-linear response of drainage to rainfall will most seriously affect regions in the intermediate, unstable, regime. A 10% decrease in precipitation in regions on the upper regime boundary (1000 mm/y) would reduce drainage by 17%, while in regions receiving 500 mm/y such a drop would cut 50% of surface drainage. Using predicted precipitation changes, we calculate that decrease in perennial drainage will significantly affect present surface water access across 25% of Africa by the end of this century.

March 3, 2006 in Africa | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bird Flu Mutates

The World Health Organization indicates that as the H5N1 virus mutates, it is becoming more deadly to poultry, but not necessarily more likely to be transmitted to human beings or more risky to human beings.  WHO  <>

The virus, which has spread in recent months from Asia into Russia, Africa and western Europe, has so far killed more than 90 people and forced the slaughter of millions of birds.  Western Europe is on high alert - since Germany, Austria, France and Italy have cases in wild birds11 nations worldwide reported outbreaks over the past three weeks, an indication that the virus, which has killed at least 92 people, is spreading faster.  "The recent appearance of the virus in birds in a rapidly growing number of countries is of public health concern," it said. "It expands opportunities for human exposures and infections to occur."

The danger was increased when the virus jumped from wild to domestic birds, which was easiest when poultry lived in close contact with humans, as in Africa and parts of Asia. Although H5N1 remains difficult for humans to catch, scientists fear it could mutate to be easily passed from person to person and trigger a pandemic in which millions could die.

February 28, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, EU, Governance/Management, Physical Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bird Flu moves into EU and Africa

Science reports on the movement of bird flu into the EU and Africa.  Many worry that "Beset by disease, poverty, and a lack of infrastructure, Africa is ill-equipped to deal with H5N1."   AVIAN INFLUENZA: H5N1 Moves Into Africa, European Union, Deepening Global Crisis.  On the good news front, the virus does not appear to be evolving quickly, which may make it an unlikely candidate for a human pandemic.

For those of you interested in the topic, see CIDRAP facts on H5N1

February 16, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, EU, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Pew Climate Change Action Plan

Last week, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change released a 
comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
in the United States.

"The "Agenda for Climate Action" identifies both broad
and specific policies, combining recommendations on
economy-wide  mandatory emissions cuts, technology development,
scientific research, energy supply, and adaptation
with critical steps that can be taken in key sectors.

The "Agenda" includes fifteen recommendations
that chart a climate-friendly path for the United States.
They have been designed to be both cost-effective
and comprehensive. Although putting all of the recommendations
into place will take time,there is a compelling
need to get started. Further delay will only make
the challenge before us more daunting and more costly."


Pew Climate Action Plan

See also US greenhouse gas emissions 1990-2004

February 12, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)