July 02, 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!
Scientists Galore in Global Warming
The Discovery Channel special presents an impressive array of international experts discussing the current realities of global warming and the future of the planet, featuring Dr. James Hansen, Chief, NASA Institute for Space Studies; Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University; and Dr. Stephen Pacala, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University. Hansen is the world's most prominent climate modeler. He is perhaps best known for his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s, which helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue. Dr. Hansen was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and he received the prestigious Heinz Environment Award for his research on global warming in 2001. The Bush Administration recently created an outcry when it attempted to rein in his public appearances. The Contents of Global Warming
Oppenheimer has researched potential effects of global warming, including the impact of warming on atmospheric chemistry, ecosystems, the nitrogen cycle, ocean circulation, and the ice sheets. Oppenheimer and other scientists organized two UN workshops that helped catalyze negotiations on the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. He co-founded the Climate Action Network and co-authored Dead Heat: The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect.Pacala has focused on problems of global change with an emphasis on the biological regulation of greenhouse gases and climate. He is co-director of the Princeton Carbon Mitigation Initiative and directs the Princeton Environmental Institute. His writing includes research on maintenance of biodiversity, ecosystem modeling, ecological statisticsand the dynamics of vegetation and animal behavior.
Other scientists presented in the special include: Dr. Daniel Nepstad, Ecologist, Amazon researcher, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center; Dr. Mark Serreze, Senior Research Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, National Center for Atmospheric Research; Dr. Greg Holland, Director, Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division, NCAR; Dr. Nick Lunn, Research Scientist, Canadian Wildlife Service; Dr. Stephen Harrison, Director, Climate Change Risk Management, Glaciologist/Senior Research Associate, Oxford University Centre for the Environment; Professor Bob Spicer, Director of the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space, and Astronomical Research; Professor Peter Cox, Science Director, Climate Change, Center for Ecology and Hydrology, Execter; Dr. John Hunter, Researcher, Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, University of Tasmania; Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Marine Biologist, University of Queensland; Professor Lin Er Da, Director, Agrometeorological Institute, China Academy of Agricultural Sciences; and Hila Vavae, Senior Meteorologist, Director of Meteorolgy Office, Tuvalu Island.
The Discovery Channel special presents an impressive array of international experts discussing the current realities of global warming and the future of the planet, featuring Dr. James Hansen, Chief, NASA Institute for Space Studies; Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University; and Dr. Stephen Pacala, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University.
Hansen is the world's most prominent climate modeler. He is perhaps best known for his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s, which helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue. Dr. Hansen was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and he received the prestigious Heinz Environment Award for his research on global warming in 2001. The Bush Administration recently created an outcry when it attempted to rein in his public appearances.
The Contents of Global Warming
The Discovery Channel special aims to
"decode the buzzwords and arm viewers with an arsenal of clear definitions and visual depictions to explain the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide emissions, CFCs, and effects on weather and rising sea levels. Visceral CGI and cutting edge climate computer models will help viewers see into the future at a world significantly changed by unchecked global warming."
The special features global warming hot spots most affected by climate change: sub-surface rivers in Patagonian glaciers, the drought-stricken Amazon river basin, and the Great Barrierl reef. The special presents a graphical timeline of global warming throughout history, addresses the contention that current global warming is simply part of the natural warming and cooling climate cycles, and demonstrates the contribution of the average American family to global warming. It identifies the mega-technical solutions from ocean CO2 injection to building green cities or "ecopolis." It also address the small fixes -- what ordinary Americans can do to slow global warming.Here's an interesting perspective on Gore from a conservative Christian perspective: God, Gore and Global Warming by Ken Connor Posted Jul 03, 2006 in Human Events It is pretty rare for a documentary to make a million dollars at the box office, so the fact that Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" has already brought in more than $10 million is impressive. Not only that, but Gore's movie will probably be one of the five best-selling documentaries of all time by the end of its run. The former Vice President clearly sees himself as a prophet, and he is warning Americans that the end is near. Is it true? Are we living in the end times—not so much because of an impending Rapture, but because of melting ice caps? At CJS, we certainly don't have the scientific expertise to assess rival global warming claims. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: the debate should be settled on the basis of merit, not personality. Some conservatives will dismiss Al Gore's arguments simply because he is Al Gore. That would be a mistake. Christians are often concerned about the lazy relativism that has become so popular in America. To compete against the post-modern mentality, we often talk about "truth-claims," and challenge others to take our truth-claims seriously. Al Gore is making a set of truth-claims, and many scientists support his theories. That does not necessarily mean Gore is right, but we should also resist the urge to let politics get in the way of an honest assessment. Our responsibility as citizens is to look at all the evidence and make the best assessment we can. After collecting and interpreting the data, what if we determine that global warming is not a threat, or that humans are not responsible for increased temperatures? Does that automatically mean that we should proceed with the environmental policies we have now? Not at all. Whether or not we face impending doom, Christians need to remember that human beings have a responsibility toward the environment. In the last few decades we certainly have not been as conscientious about taking care of our natural resources as we should be. Like it or not, Al Gore is helping to remind Christians of an important duty. The great evangelical apologist, Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book in the 1970s called Pollution and the Death of Man. In it, Schaeffer carefully analyzes the claims of the environmental movement. Basing his arguments on some profound theological truths, Schaeffer argues that Christians have an important obligation to the environment. For example, Schaeffer reminds Christians that God created the material world—including trees and chipmunks and flowers and whales—and that upon creating these things he called them good. In other words, God saw something worthwhile in these things, in and of themselves. The material world is valued in God's eyes, it ultimately belongs to Him, and therefore we should treat it with a measure of reverence. Schaeffer recognizes that the environment, along with everything else, has suffered as a result of the Fall. Pollution, disease, and even global warming, are evidence of a fallen world. However, we should keep the three-part Christian worldview in mind: Creation, Fall, Redemption. Christians are always and everywhere called to be agents of Christ's redemption. Though the earth groans, we have an opportunity to work with a resurrection mentality, for Christ has made all things new. Along the same lines, Schaeffer reminds us that mankind has a certain union with the creation, since we are actually a part of the creation. Along with sparrows and lilies, we are all the handiwork of the same God. For this reason, we ought to have some sense of solidarity with the created world. Beware, however: this point can be abused, as we've seen with the Spanish effort to confer fundamental human rights upon apes. While we enjoy exalted status as creatures made in God's image (Gen. 1:27), we also have a sobering responsibility that accompanies this status. Under the so called "dominion mandate" (Gen 1:28), God has placed His global garden in our hands, and he has given us the charge: "Take good care of the world until I return." That is a major responsibility, and Christians should be especially concerned about disappointing the Gardener who created this garden in the first place. We live in a consumer driven age, and selfishness abounds. It is easy to fall into the consumer mentality ("me, me, me, take, take, take"). Even Christians have been tempted to consume resources without considering future generations or our responsibility to God. Al Gore's prophesies may or may not be true, but they do provide us with an opportunity to stop and think about whether or not we—individually and collectively—have been faithful stewards of the environment. This is a discussion worth having, and at the very least we can thank Al Gore for inspiring it. Mr. Connor is chairman of the Center for a Just Society. He is a trial and appellate attorney, known for his successful representation of victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. He is a past president of the Family Research Council.
Some of the Materials from Global Warming
The Facts About Global Warming
WHAT IS IT?
- Global warming is the gradual rise of the earth's surface temperature, thought to be caused by increased emissions of greenhouse gases (the “greenhouse effect”), specifically from human activities. -Environmental Protection Agency
A mere six degrees of global warming was enough to wipe out up to 95 percent of the species alive on Earth 251 million years ago. -Peopleandplanet.net, Bristol Univ.
Sun provides the Earth with the heat it needs to support life, but a drop of only 1/10th of 1% of the amount of the Sun’s energy reaching the Earth can spawn an Ice Age.
THE HEAT IS ON
· The average temperature in the U.S. in 2005 was almost one degree above the 1895-2004 mean, which will make 2005 one of the 20 warmest years on record for the country. -NOAA (based on preliminary data)
· Of the top 20 hottest years on record, 19 have occurred since 1980.
· Computer models suggest that average global surface temperatures will rise between 2.5°F and 10.4°F by the end of this century, a rate much larger and faster than any climatic changes over the past 10,000 years. -National Academy of Sciences
· Many scientists believe that temperatures are rising so fast, the Earth’s climate may reach a threshold – the tipping point – when there will be nothing we can do to ‘undo’ global warming.
AROUND THE WORLD
· In 1980, sea ice covered nearly 1.7 billion acres of the Artic, about the size of the
. In the last two decades alone, the Artic has lost an area roughly twice the size of
. If the melting continues at this rate, computer models predict that by 2060 there will be no sea ice at all during the Artic summer.
· One hundred years ago, there were more than 150 glaciers at
Glacier National Park in Montana. Today there are fewer than 30.
· The Patagonian glaciers at the Southern tip of South America
have lost 10% of their ice in the last seven years.
· If just the Greenland
icesheet melts into the ocean, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet over the next few hundred years. Coastal cities, including New York and London, would be completely flooded. Low lying countries such as Bangladesh – with much of its land mass at sea level – would be nearly wiped out.
· Every year, nearly a thousand square miles of farmland in China
turns to desert. Since the 1950s, the rate has doubled.
· In a study of the polar bear population in the Arctic town of Churchilll,
Manitoba , the number of bears has declined from about 1200 back in the 1980s to less than 950 today. This 22% decline is directly related to early break-up sea ice in the region.
FACT OR FICTION:
· Some scientists argue that the increase in greenhouse gases has not made a measurable difference in the temperature. They say that natural processes have caused global warming. –World Book Encyclopedia
· “There is no reason to believe that this 10,000-year-old cycle of solar-induced warming and cooling will change, said Dr. Sallie Baliunas, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “I believe that we may be nearing the end of a solar warming cycle. Since the last minimum ended in 1715, there is a strong possibility that the Earth will start cooling off in the early part of the 21st Century.” National Center for Public Policy Research
FUELING THE FIRE: GREENHOUSE GASES
· Earth’s greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that helps regulate the temperature of our planet. The sun heats the Earth and some of this heat, rather than escaping back to space, is trapped in the atmosphere by clouds and greenhouse gases, keeping the Earth at a sustainable temperature for human life.
· While many greenhouse gases occur naturally, human activities are adding gases to the natural mix at an unprecedented rate.
· More than 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest are lost every year to loggers and farmers.
· In the century between 1850 and 1950, human activities burned up 60 billion tons of carbon fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas. Today we burn the same amount every 10 years.
· The United States pumps more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country in the world. Each of us contributes about 22 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, whereas the world average per capita is about 6 tons. - Environmental Protection Agency
· Right now the U.S.makes up only five percent of the world’s population, yet we are responsible for a staggering 25% of the carbon dioxide that’s released into the atmosphere.
· Unless we reduce emissions and develop new energy alternatives, the blanket of greenhouse gases that surrounds the planet will double in the next 50 years, and triple in the next hundred.
WHAT ARE WE TO DO?
· Alternative energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide include the wind, sunlight, nuclear energy, and underground steam. Alternative sources of energy are more expensive to use than fossil fuels. However, increased research into their use would almost certainly reduce their cost. -World Book Encyclopedia
· Everyday steps:
o High-efficiency appliances can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 450 pounds a year.
o Recycle aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic, cardboard, and newspapers. Recycling can reduce your home's carbon dioxide emissions by 850 pounds per year.
o When running errands, combine trips so that you are not using your car for single-purpose trips.
o Carpool: Leaving your car at home just two days a week will reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by 1,590 pounds per year. - Environmental Protection Agency
o Turning the thermostat down three degrees not only saves money – it keeps one ton of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
o If every American household switched just one traditional light bulb to a long lasting energy-efficient fluorescent bulb, it would be the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road.
Global Warming Timeline
254 Million Years Ago
- Global warming of just a couple of degrees at the end of the Permian era led to mass extinction.
55 Million Years Ago
A several degree warming period at the end of the Paleocene era triggered a mass extinction.
10,000 Years Ago
During the last ice age, the Earth was just 9-16 degrees cooler than it is today.
A Swedish chemist named Svante Arrhenius coined the term “greenhouse effect” when he hypothesized in an article that global temperature is related to the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
- Climatologist Charles Keeling was the first to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on a continuous basis, and he was the first to report that global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were rising. His documentation was graphed, and became known as the Keeling Curve.
- At this time, the science of global warming consisted of a few determined scientists whose predictions about the fate of our planet were either furiously debated or widely ignored.
- The four strongest El Niños on record have all happened since 1980.
Temperatures in Chicago reach over 100 degrees and kill 739 people in five days
Larson B is the largest expanse of ice on earth, located on the eastern end of the Antarctic Peninsula. This plate of ice has been in deep freeze for the last 12,000 years. During periods of warmth, parts of the shelf have melted away, and small icebergs have splintered from its edges. But in the summer of 2002, something unprecedented happens. A chunk the size of Rhode Island falls into the sea.
Northern China has been gripped with severe drought since 2002.
China inhabits 21% of the Earth’s population, yet the country only has 7% of the world’s water.
- More than 30,000 perish when a record-breaking heat wave grips an ill-prepared
January 1: Across Southern Australia, the New Year blasts its way into the record books. In the capital of
Sydney, temperatures top 113 degrees. By the end of January, the most destructive brush fires in 20 years rage throughout the country, killing nine people. <>
August 29, 2005: Katrina is the strongest hurricane to ever hit the
Gulf States reaching speeds of 175 miles an hour and ravaging 100 miles of coastline. In only a few hours, the tourist town of Gulfport,Mississippiis nearly leveled by the category 4 storm. Nearly 80% of the city of New Orleans floods. Thousands are killed.
- Australia recorded the hottest year on record.
- The Amazon rainforests recorded the driest year on record.
- The worldwide record for number of hurricanes is smashed with 28 officially designated storms, including the most deadly to hit the U.S. in nearly 100 years.
- The Kyoto Protocol is ratified by more than 160 nations. It sets legally binding target dates for many industrialized countries to cut their global-warming emissions. Despite the United State’s role in drafting the treaty, the current administration has yet to sign the Kyoto treaty. Also reluctant to sign is Australia, the 14th largest producer of greenhouse gases, and the world’s largest exporter of coal.
- February: The island ofTuvalu in the South Pacific saw the highest tide they’ve ever seen at 11 feet. If the oceans continue to rise, many of these small island countries will simply vanish into the sea.
- April 16: A sandstorm blows more than 300,000 tons of sand on the capital of
- May: Canadian wildlife officials were astonished to find the first polar bear/ grizzly hybrid in the wild.
GlacierNational Park in northern MT is seeing the ice melt faster than at any time in recorded history. As the ice melts, more ground is exposed. That ground absorbs more of the sun that used to be reflected by the ice. As the ground warms up, the ice melts even faster.
- The Great Barrier Reef experiences the third bleaching event in the last eight years. Three thousand individual reefs join together to cover more than 135,000 square miles of the ocean floor. Currently, the warm temperature of the water is preventing the algae from provided the nourishment and protection the corals need. The coral is repelling the algae, resulting in a colorless, dying coral reef.
- Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere today are higher than anything we’ve seen in the past 600,000 years. Never, since human beings first walked the Earth, have carbon dioxide levels been this high. This shows that the present day climate is very unusual.
- If temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, in 2100 the Earth may hit the 4-degree mark, known as the tipping point. This is the point at which Earth’s climate will reach the threshold of no longer being able to ‘undo’ global warming. [see Tipping Point post]
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
June 29, 2006
So Much for the Kinder, Greener Image of Ford
Ford will do hybrid R & D in Sweden, but apparently it won't produce hybrids for the US.
I'm a little confused. I think Ford believes that Americans don't want hybrids, but Europeans do.
At any rate, American car manufacturers seem to have their heads firmly in the sand.
HT Green Car Congress.
Ford to Establish Hybrid Development Center in Sweden; Volvo Cars to Invest $1.4 Billion in Environmental R&D
30 June 2006
Ford Motor, through its subsidiary Volvo Cars, announced it will establish a development center for hybrid systems in Gothenburg, Sweden, to serve Ford’s Premier Automotive Group and Ford of Europe business units.
In a related announcement, Volvo said that it will invest SEK 10 billion (US$1.4 billion) in environmental R&D to improve fuel economy and tailpipe emissions of its global fleet.
Hybrid development center. The hybrid development center will have overall responsibility for the application of hybrid systems into Volvo Cars vehicles globally as well as for ensuring Ford of Europe and brands from Ford’s Premier Automotive Group are able to apply core hybrid systems into their own product plans.
The center will be staffed initially by a mix of 20 leading engineers from both Volvo Cars and other brands from the Ford Motor Company group.
Part of a global initiative by Ford Motor Company to speed the introduction of more fuel-efficient vehicles, the new hybrid development center will build on the experience and expertise that Volvo Cars has built up over many years in developing advanced environmental technology systems, including some of the early hybrid systems, that eventually made their way into the world’s first hybrid SUV, the Ford Escape.
The center’s location will ensure that hybrid technology development at Ford Motor Company takes into account different market trends and customer preferences in regions around the world. While the new center will be located in Gothenburg, each brand within Ford European operations will be responsible for applying new technologies to their own product portfolios.
The team at the new hybrid center will also work closely with Ford’s hybrid development team in Detroit, Michigan, to ensure optimum global alignment and economies of scale.
Environmental R&D. In a linked announcement, Volvo Cars announced the investment of SEK 10 billion (US$1.4 billion) in environmental research and development. The aim is to reduce the total fuel economy and tailpipe emissions of the global Volvo Cars fleet.
The investment initiative will focus primarily on:
At the Challenge Bibendum 2004, Volvo introduced the 3CC electric concept car, a 3-seater prototype electric vehicle powered by a lithium-ion battery. (Earlier post). At the Challenge Bibendum 2006, Volvo introduced the Multi-Fuel, an extremely clean engine offering high performance, which can run on five fuels (bio-methane; bio-ethanol; natural gas; gasoline and hythane, a mixture consisting of 10 percent hydrogen gas and 90 percent methane gas). (Earlier post.)
The Volvo Car Corporation, with its head office in Gothenburg, Sweden, has been a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company since 1999. Volvo has approximately 27,000 employees around the world.
Sierra Club Statement by Dan Becker, Director, Global Warming Program
WASHINGTON - June 29 - Yesterday, Bill Ford announced in an email to Ford Motor Company employees that Ford was walking away from its promise to produce 250,000 hybrid vehicles annually by the end of the decade. Instead, as Ford also announced yesterday in a letter with GM and DaimlerChrysler to Congress, it intends to focus on doubling its production of flexfuel vehicles.
“We were pleased to applaud Ford when it made a promise to build 250,000 hybrid vehicles annually by 2010. Today we are appalled that Ford is abrogating this promise. Ford is rapidly becoming the automaker that cried wolf. In 2000, Ford promised to increase the fuel economy of its SUVs by 25% over five years; it walked away from that promise in 2003. By swapping out more clean and efficient hybrids for more flexfuel vehicles, Ford is engaging in a classic bait and switch. Even the Bush administration admits that flexfuels run on regular gasoline 99% of the time, since E85 is only available at an infinitesimal .003% of the nation’s gas stations. Instead of taking concrete steps to save consumers money at the pump by giving them efficient hybrids, Ford is saddling consumers with the same gas guzzlers that will run on the same gasoline they have for the past 100 years.
“Ford already has the least efficient fleet of the Big 6 automakers and it can and should do better than simply using clever marketing to disguise its exploitation of the SUV-sized flexfuel vehicle loophole in the CAFE law. This loophole allows Ford and other automakers to make more gas guzzlers than the already weak CAFE law would allow if they simply make a certain number of flexfuel vehicles—even though the vast majority of these vehicles never actually run on E85.
“I am particularly disappointed that Bill Ford himself delivered this unfortunate news. He and his company have repeatedly claimed—using multi-million dollar ad campaigns—to be environmental champions that were working toward cleaner and more environmentally sound choices for consumers. We now know that Ford Motor Company cannot be relied upon to tell the truth or even to compete effectively with the more efficient fleets of foreign competitors like Honda and Toyota. It is also becoming clear that Bill Ford himself is either unable or unwilling to live up to his own commitments to the environment.
Better Living Through Chemistry: The "Fruitchemical" Industry
Robert Service reports in Science on research reported by chemical engineer James Dumesic and colleagues on a new process for turning fructose, the sugar in fruit, into a compound called 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), which can replace key petroleum-derived chemical building blocks. Science report on HMF process
Unlike previous schemes for turning sugar into HMF, the new process is efficient, easy, and potentially low cost. "It looks real good to me," says Thomas Zawodzinski, a chemical engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. "This is the direction things need to go in."
The changes doubled the percentage of fructose that gets converted into HMF, to 85%. With that boost and related improvements, "now you can make some pretty compelling arguments" for producing HMF commercially, says Todd Werpy, an expert on producing bio-derived chemicals at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. Producing commodity chemicals from renewable feedstocks "is really in its infancy," Werpy says. But with top research groups now training their sights on the problem, he adds, "renewables could make a major contribution to the chemical needs in the United States."
Self-fertilizing plants would boost biofuel
One of the difficulties with using biofuel/biomass as a transition out of a petroleum economy is the damage done to water resources by fertilizers. A promising biotech development may help surmount that obstacle: genetic modification of plants to provide their own nitrogen so that chemical nitrogen need not be applied, thus cutting the fossil fuel use of the agriculture industry in half and protecting scarce freshwater resources from agricultural pollution. Studies by Oldroyd and Stougaard published today in Nature that modify a plant gene allowing a crop to be self-fertilizing. The same technique could potentially develop self-fertilizings wheat, maize and rice. Nature article
June 26, 2006
Oregon State Rules!
In case any of you have been out of the loop or failed to watch the big game, humble Oregon State just won the College World Series!!! Go Beavs!
June 26, 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 | TrackBack
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.
The first tipping point is Artic ice, which shrank 20% in the last 20 years of the 20th century:
"There is near-universal agreement that we are now seeing a greenhouse effect in the Arctic," says Mark Serreze from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. Serreze studies sea ice, the member of the arctic triumvirate that has had most recent attention. In the winter, sea ice more or less covers the Arctic Ocean basin. Summer sun nibbles at the pack ice, shrinking it at the edges and creating patches of open water within. Open water reflects much less sunlight than ice — it has what is known as a lower albedo — so the greater the area of dark open water, the more summer warmth the ocean stores. More stored heat means thinner ice in the next winter, which is more vulnerable to melting the next summer — meaning yet more warmth being stored in the open water in the following year, a cycle known as the 'ice–albedo feedback'. "Once you start melting and receding, you can't go back," says Serreze. It seems that some of this process is under way. Serreze and his colleagues have found that the summer sea ice has shrunk by an average of 8% a decade over the past thirty years2. The past four years have seen record lows in the extent of September sea ice, and in 2005 there was 20% less ice cover than the 1979–2000 average, a loss of about 1.3 million square kilometres, which is more than the area of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. It was this finding that triggered a raft of alarming headlines. The ice's volume, rather than its extent, would be a more useful figure, but this is hard to estimate. Radar measurements showing how proud the ice sits with respect to nearby water would help, but the European Cryosat mission intended to provide these data was lost on launch in October 2005. A reflight is planned, but at present the only way to determine the pack thickness is from below. In 2003 Andrew Rothrock and Jinlun Zhang of the University of Washington in Seattle analysed results from a series of submarine cruises from 1987–97 and concluded that the ice thinned by about one metre during that period3.
A natural swing in wind and weather known as the Arctic Oscillation may have played a key role in the decline.In 1989, this index began to approach its positive mode,in which a ring of strong winds circles the pole. Zhangand his colleague Roger Lindsay, also at the University of Washington, believe these winds flushed large amountsof thick ice out of the Arctic through the Fram Strait, eastof Greenland. Last year, they published a model suggesting that because the replacement ice was thinner and morevulnerable to the ice–albedo feedback, this extra loss pushed the Arctic over the edge. Their paper's title: "The thinning of Arctic Sea Ice, 1988–2003: Have We Passed a Tipping Point?"4.
But given that sea ice was disappearing even before the Arctic Oscillation lurched into its positive state, it is unlikely to have been the sole trigger. "The Arctic Oscillation was a strong kick in the pants," says Serreze, "but if we hadn't had it we would still have seen the ice loss."
Whatever the precise mechanisms, the decrease in ice seems to be warming the atmosphere, as heat pours from the open water into the air above it. Springtime temperatures began rising throughout the Arctic basin in the 1990s5. This year, the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard experienced a remarkable heatwave. January was warmer than any previously recorded April, and April was more than 12°C warmer than the long-term average.
Lindsay and Zhang suggest that the ice–albedo effect has indeed passed a tipping point, with the internal dynamics more important than external factors. But neither observations nor models suggest that the effect will now run away without outside help. According to climate modeller Jason Lowe of the UK Met Office in Exeter, the relationship between sea ice and temperature is reassuringly linear. "When you plot sea ice against temperature rise, whether from observations or models, it forms a remarkably straight line," he says. "It's not a runaway effect over the sorts of temperature ranges that we're predicting here." Lowe says that although the planet will almost certainly lose more ice, it does not have to lose it all. But if current trends in greenhouse-gas emissions and global warming continue, a planet that used to have two permanent polar caps will have only one.
Losing the sea ice would be bad news not only for polar bears and other charismatic megafauna, but also for some of the Arctic's smaller inhabitants. Photosynthetic plankton that live in pores and channels within the ice are the foundation of the area's food supply, and are not well adapted to ice-free life. Open-ocean plankton might benefit, but the Arctic is so poor in nutrients that this would probably not be much compensation6.
Compared with the overall scale of human-induced climate change, the additional warming expected if the ice–albedo feedback goes all the way would not be immense. The 4.5% of the Earth's surface above the Arctic Circle is simply too small to make a radical difference to the planet's energy balance. There are, however, some hints that the loss of sea ice may have more far-reaching effects beyond the simple number of watts absorbed per square metre. Tim Lenton, an Earth-systems scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, points out that our current, relatively stable pattern of winds, which is caused by three circulatory air systems in each hemisphere, depends in part on a white and cold North Pole.
Sinking air in the Arctic is an integral part of an air system called a Hadley cell; there is another Hadley cell over the tropics. Between these two cells are the fierce westerlies and the high-altitude jet streams that drive storms around the middle latitudes. "If any part of the current structure broke down, that would be profound," says Lenton. "If the system starts to switch seasonally between three cells and a less stable structure, you change the position of the jet streams, you change everything." Models of this possibility are scarce, but Jacob Sewall and Lisa Sloan of the University of California, Santa Cruz, have shown that an ice-free Arctic could shift winter storm tracks over North America, drying the American west7.
The second tipping point, with much more potential to dramatically change life on Earth, is the melting of Greenland ice.
The local warming caused by less sea ice could also affect the second tipping point, the size of the Greenland ice sheet. Here the effects could be dramatic, although delayed by centuries; there is enough ice on Greenland to raise sea levels by seven metres. "After hurricane Katrina, the deepest water in New Orleans was six metres," says glaciologist Richard Alley from Penn State University. "Greenland is more than that for all the coasts of the world. Do you move cities, do you build seven-metre walls and hope they stay, or what?" Until recently, nobody had painted a convincing portrait of how Greenland is responding to Arctic warming. A glacier here may recede while one over there grows; ice may be accumulating inland and eroding near the coast. But in the past couple of years, almost all of the indicators have started to point in the same direction. Greenland is melting...
Although satellite measurements of Greenland's interior suggest that snow has recently been accumulating there, the margins are receding8. Laser measurements taken from planes suggest that this coastal melting is probably enough to outweigh the build-up of snow inland9. Also, Greenland's glaciers seem to have been speeding up. A few months ago, Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and Pannir Kanagaratnam of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, published satellite evidence that between 1996 and 2000, Greenland's more southerly glaciers had begun to accelerate, and that by 2005 the northerly ones had followed suit10. They estimate that over the past decade this lurching has more than doubled Greenland's annual loss of ice, from 90 to 220 cubic kilometres per year....
"In the past decade there has been a lot of warming," says Alley. "There's plenty of room to argue whether that's a natural fluctuation or not, but there's a clear relation between Greenland getting warmer and Greenland getting smaller."
Modelling by Jonathan Gregory from the University of Reading and his colleagues suggests that it would require an average warming worldwide of 3.1 °C to drive this shrinking to its ultimate conclusion of an ice-free Greenland11. This climatic point of no return is around the middle of the range foreseen by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but is higher than a previous estimate made by the same group12. ...
But these models do not take into account the dynamism of Greenland's glaciers. In 2002 Jay Zwally from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, found that as soon as summer meltwater appeared on the surface of west-central Greenland, the ice began to slip more quickly13. This is surprising, as slip rates should depend on processes at the base of the ice rather than at its surface. But Zwally points out that the great lakes of water produced by the melting could slip down conduits in the ice and be delivered directly to the bed.
This result doesn't necessarily make a big difference to the fate of Greenland, as the increase in the ice's speed was relatively small. But it points to a new way in which the ice sheet could react to climate change quicker than anyone had realized. "In places inland where the ice is frozen to its bedrock, if you warm the surface and wait for heat to get conducted to the bottom it takes 10,000 years," says Alley. "But if you send water down through a crack it takes maybe 10 minutes, maybe 10 seconds." If this process started to move inland, even the interior of Greenland's ice sheet could be vulnerable to warmer air. That could point to the sort of self-sustaining feedback that tipping points are made of.
The models don't incorporate this mechanism, because they can't. The cliff fronts of many Greenland glaciers are shot through with bright blue conduits, but nobody knows how widespread these veins are inside the ice. Still, the responsiveness of Greenland's glaciers makes that point-of-no-return figure of 3.1 °C even less comforting. What's more, a lot of damage can be done without losing all of the ice. The ice sheet did not vanish during the last interglacial, around 130,000 years ago, when temperatures in the north were a few degrees higher than they are today. And yet the latest analyses suggest that meltwater from Greenland increased the sea level by between two and three metres. The only good thing about such an increase is that it would take centuries....
The third tipping point is thermohaline circulation, the ocean conveyor belt that distributes heat and salt in the ocean.
Thanks to its cold temperatures and high salinity, water in the Nordic seas between Greenland and Scandinavia is unusually dense and sinks. Surface water is drawn northwards to replenish this. One result of this flow is that Britain is warmer than its latitude would seem to deserve.
The sinking process sets a global mass of water in motion, transporting vast amounts of heat around the oceans. In the 1980s, models began to suggest that melting ice in the north could weaken this system, by putting a plug of fresh water over the sinkhole. This led to fears of abrupt climate change and snap ice ages in Europe and eastern America. These days most scientists think that the power of this flow to affect European temperatures under current conditions, or in a globally warmed future, has been overestimated14. But changes in the system could still have far-reaching implications. And models suggest that the thermohaline circulation has its own tipping point.
Comparing the output from 11 different ocean and climate models, ocean modeller Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany, has concluded that it would take between 100,000 and 200,000 cubic metres of fresh water per second to shut down the thermohaline circulation — similar to the outflow from the Amazon River15. And once the circulation is stopped, restarting it would take a lot more cooling than just reversing the system into the conditions in which it was previously working.
The good news is that although the Arctic does seem to be getting fresher, it is nowhere near the danger point. Add together the increased output from disappearing sea ice (which moves fresh water from the point where sea water freezes to the point where the ice melts), the melting of Greenland and increased Arctic river flow and you still have barely a quarter of the lower bound of the model threshold.
However, measurements of flow in the deep ocean suggest that the circulation might be fluctuating in ways not considered by the models16. And if the melting of Greenland were to gather pace, the thermohaline circulation would be vulnerable. If the lower bounds of the models turn out to be right, a rate of melting that would get through the ice in 1,000 years would trouble the ocean overturning in centuries. "The fate of the thermohaline circulation will be decided by Greenland," says Rahmstorf. "If that goes quickly it will be bad news for the deep-water formation. But if Greenland is stable, the risk of shutting down the circulation completely is very small."
Any such shutdown would probably have only a small effect on European temperatures. But thanks to the Coriolis effect, says Rahmstorf, such a large shift in the ocean circulation would redistribute sea water so that the North Atlantic rose by up to a metre17. There are also suggestions that Atlantic fisheries could collapse.
But the biggest danger would come farther south. In the past, similar changes in ocean circulation seem to have led to significant shifts in tropical rainfall. "If you switch off the thermohaline circulation, the tropical rainfall belts shift. All the models show this. It's quite simple robust physics," says Rahmstorf. General circulation models, which try to simulate the workings of the climate system as a whole, often including the ocean, predict at least some weakening of the thermohaline circulation by the end of the century, with a knock-on effect on tropical rainfall — the system that provides much of Asia with food. And as with Greenland, the change doesn't have to be complete to have consequences. "Just weakening the system is by no means harmless," says Rahmstorf. "You'd get the same pattern of effects as for a total shutdown, but just a smaller amplitude."
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
March 09, 2006
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.
European scientists explored the potential distribution of a range of bioenergy crops under current conditions and under future climate -- with the goal of determining which bioenergy crops can be used to meet the demand for bioenergy now and in the future. Researchers derived maps of the potential distribution of 26 promising bioenergy crops in Europe based on suitable climatic conditions and elevation. Crops suitable for temperate and Mediterranean climates were selected from four groups: oilseeds (e.g. oilseed rape, sunflower), starch crops (e.g. potatoes), cereals (e.g. barley), and solid biofuel crops (e.g. sorghum, miscanthus). The impact of climate change under different scenarios and general circulation models on the potential future distribution of these crops was determined, based on predicted future climatic conditions. Climate scenarios were based on four IPCC SRES² emission scenarios, implemented by four main global climate models. Overall, the results have shown that the potential distribution of temperate oilseeds, cereals, starch crops, and solid biofuels is predicted to increase in northern Europe by the 2080s, due to increasing temperatures, and decrease in southern Europe (e.g. Spain, Portugal, southern France, Italy, and Greece) due to increased drought. Mediterranean oil and solid biofuel crops, currently restricted to southern Europe, are predicted to extend further north due to higher summer temperatures. These effects become more pronounced with time and are the greatest under the highest emission scenario and for models predicting the greatest climate forcing. All models predict that bioenergy crop production in Spain is especially vulnerable to climate change, with many temperate crops predicted to decline dramatically by the 2080s.
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 birds. 11 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 22, 2006
Reduced food production in Africa expected from climate change
A study by Stige et al using data from the last few decades to predict food production given climate variations suggests that food production in Africa will be seriously reduced by climate change. The effect of climate variation on agro-pastoral production in Africa - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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
CO2 pollution reduces available freshwater
John Bohannon of Science reported yesterday that global warming is not the only effect of carbon dioxide pollution:
Over the past century, more and more fresh river water has been spilling off the continents into the oceans. But mysteriously, no change in overall precipitation can account for this increased flow. The net loss of water is worrying because it increases the risk of drought. Scientists have suspected that human-induced climate change is to blame, but it has proved difficult to finger just where the water budget has sprung a leak.....
Rising carbon dioxide levels alone appear to have caused the leak. A statistical analysis of the simulations revealed that increasing levels of the greenhouse gas are the main driver of river run-off, but not through global warming. Instead, CO2 is acting as a plant antiperspirant. Plants respond to increased levels of the gas by letting less water evaporate through their pores--known as stomata--and consequently taking up less water from the soil. This leaves extra water in the ground, which is eventually lost to river runoff rather than keeping the air moist--which would keep it circulating as fresh water.
The study is "clear and convincing," says Ian Woodward, a climate scientist at the University of Sheffield, U.K. The effect of CO2 on plant sweating is well known from greenhouse experiments, he says, but detecting the effect on a global scale is "a major result."
February 16, 2006 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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
February 11, 2006
Workshop on Agricultural Air Quality: State of the Science
The Ecological Society of America is sponsoring a Workshop on Agricultural Air Quality: State of the Science in Washington, D.C. on June 5 - 8, 2006. An excellent article on Emerging National Research Needs for Agricultural Air Quality was published in EOS, American Geophysical Union's publication. EOS Article on Agricultural Air Quality
February 07, 2006
WTO Rules Against EU Ban on GMO Foods and Crops
In a confidential preliminary opinion, the World Trade Organization ruled that the European Union violated trade rules when it imposed a moratorium on approving genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). The WTO also ruled that six individual states - France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece - broke the rules by applying their own bans on marketing and importing GMO’s.WTO Coverage
The European Union will be forced to open itself to more genetically modified products after the world trade panel ruled today that its strict policy on biotech foods and crops amounts to protectionism. The case, brought by Argentina, Canada and the United States, claimed that the EU's unofficial 1998-2004 moratorium on GMO approvals hurt their exports and was not based on science. US farmers say the EU ban cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales while it was in effect since many US agricultural products, including most US corn, were effectively barred from entering EU markets.
The GMO moratorium ended in May 2004 with EU approval of a canned modified sweetcorn and there have been a handful of approvals since that time. However, the complainants argued that Europe's biotech approvals process is still not working properly.
The European Commission claims the EU has put in place tough but fair laws since 1998 to ensure a smooth approvals process, so there is no reason to change them - whatever the WTO says. The Commission insists that the case is not about Europe's GMO policy as such but what happened between 1998 and 2004. All applications for GMO approvals will continue to be processed and approved on a case-by-case basis using scientific criteria. EU Statement
The WTO issued a clear-cut condemnation of EU policy and criticized national bans on specific GMO products in several EU countries. These products had already won EU-wide approval but several governments used a legal exemption clause to enact national bans. These national bans were cited in the original WTO complaint in 2003.
Green groups predict that opposition to genetically modified foods will increase -- opposition to GM foods already exceeds 70% in Europe.
February 02, 2006
Environmental Appeals Board Approves Animal Feeding Operation Consent Agreements<>
EPA's Environmental Appeal Board has approved the first batch of consent agreements between animal feeding operations and the Agency concerning CAA and CERCLA 103 violations. The consent agreements are a small portion of the consent agreements that will cover more than 6,700 farms in 42 states,ranging from small dairy operations with perhaps five dozen cows to huge hog and dairy operations with tens of thousands of animals. The farms will monitor soot and volatile organic compounds, under the Clean Air Act, and ammonia and hydrogen sulfide under the CERCLA 103 emergency reporting provision. The data will be used to tailor>
clean air, hazardous waste and emergency reporting laws for the operations and the farms agree to follow those laws after the data are collected. Each operation pays $2,500 into an E.P.A. fund, which will pay for two years of air monitoring at 28 to 30 farms nationwide.
Companies also would have to agree to pay civil penalties of $200 to $100,000, depending on the size and number of farms they operate. Those fines would cover presumed violations, past and present.
Sustainable Agriculture Increases Yields
EU Science for Environment Reports:
agricultural practices have been recognised as key drivers of environmental
degradation at the global scale. Thus, promoting agricultural
sustainability by the use of technologies and practices that improve food
productivity without causing environmental damage is crucial in our pursuit
for a more sustainable and equitable development in Europe
In one of the largest analysis of sustainable agricultural practices in developing countries, an international group of scientists has examined 286 completed and ongoing sustainable farming projects in 57 countries. In total, 37 million hectares (3% of the cultivated area in developing countries) and some 12 million farmers were engaged in transition towards resource-conserving agricultural practices. These included integrated pest and nutriment management, conservation tillage, agroforestry, water harvesting, and livestock and aquaculture integration in farming systems. Questionnaires and published reports by project have been used in order to assess adoption of sustainable practices and changes in yield production over time.
For the 360 reliable yield comparisons, the analysis has shown an average increase in crop yields by around 64% since the 1990s. Half of the projects have shown yield increases between 18 and 100% and 25% of the projects showed 100% increase in yields. However, important differences have been noted between various crops. Cotton and rice showed the lowest increases, while maize, potatoes and some legumes (beans, pigeon peas, and others) demonstrated more than 100% increases.
Though many technologies and practices have been used in these “success projects”, the authors suggest that the following three types of technological improvements have probably played substantial roles in food production increases:
1. More efficient water use;
2. Improvement in organic matter accumulation and carbon sequestration; and
3. Reduced pesticide use.
The paper notes that all crops showed water use efficiency gains with the highest improvement observed in rainfed crops. This is due to increase in water productivity (i.e. kg of food per unit of water) as a result of certain sustainable agricultural practices, viz. removing limitations on productivity by increasing soil fertility; reducing soil evaporation through conservation tillage; using more water efficient varieties; reducing water losses to unrecoverable sinks.
By increasing carbon sinks in soil organic matter and above-ground biomass, the farmers have increased the amount of sequestered carbon by an average of 0.35 tonnes C/ha per year.
Regarding the analysis of pesticide-use practices, 77% of projects with reliable pesticide-use data have shown a decline in pesticide application by 71% while crop yields grew by an average of 42%.
The authors agree that in spite of the fact that sustainable agriculture alone will not solve the problem of hunger and poverty in developing countries, their findings give grounds for optimism. They also recall that the challenge lays in finding the ways to improve the farmers’ access to resource-conserving practices through international collaboration and support.
J.N. et al. (2006)
“Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing
Countries”, Environmental Science and Technology on-line.
February 01, 2006
Please feel free to post comments relevant to environmental law, natural resources law, or sustainability.
One recent comment concerned hunting of wildlife on public lands in New South Wales. See Comment
February 1, 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 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
January 13, 2006
The Coming Apocalypse: Norway Prepares to Save the World from Famine
December 10, 2005
Please feel free to post comments relevant to environmental law, natural resources law, or sustainability.
December 10, 2005 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 (1) | TrackBack
December 07, 2005
Climate Change Threatens the Wealth of Developing Countries
The World Bank released a report yesterday at the Montreal conference: Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century.
The report documented that the most important asset of most developing countries -- their land resources -- is at high risk from climate change. Excluding oil states, natural resources amount to 25% of the wealth of low income countries, much more than the 16% share of produced capital. The largest component of natural wealth in these countries is land. Cropland and pastureland constitute 70 % of the value of natural capital in low-income countries. Warren Evans, Director Environment Department, The World Bank, states: "The conclusion is clear - the most important natural asset for the poorest countries is agricultural soil. How these soils are managed and their productivity enhanced and maintained will have a critical impact on rural poverty and economic growth."
The Bank points out that current indicators used to guide development - national accounts figures, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – ignore depletion of resources and damage to the environment. In Where is the Wealth of Nations, the World Bank offers new estimates of total wealth, including produced capital, natural resources, and the value of human skills and capabilities, which show that many of the poorest countries in the world are not on a sustainable path.
The Bank explains:
Switzerland heads the list of the top-ten performers, the other nine being European countries, the United States, and Japan. Sub-Saharan Africa dominates the bottom-10 list, with Ethiopia having the lowest level of total wealth. Canada has the seventeenth largest level of total capital in the world. Natural resources represent ten percent of total wealth in Canada, owing to sub-soil resources and forests.
The 7th Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – ensure environmental sustainability – calls on countries to “reverse the losses of environmental resources” by 2015. Achieving this goal has proven to be elusive for most countries, not least because of a lack of indicators of sustainable development.
“There is a shared sense of urgency about meeting the Millennium Development Goals,” added Evans. “However, it would be tragic if the achievements of 2015 are not sustained because soils have been mined, fisheries and forests depleted, and climate change erodes the assets of the poor. Avoiding this outcome is the true seventh Millennium Development Goal.”
Where is the Wealth of Nations complements the report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The MA played an important role in signaling the importance of environmental services to human wellbeing. Where is the Wealth of Nations places an economic value on natural resources and argues that many of these values are underpinned by environmental services that may be at risk – for example, forest owners have no incentive to preserve watershed services that benefit water users; therefore, forests are overexploited and their worth unmeasured.
According to Atilio Savino, Secretary of Environment, Argentina, “Governments need to know the environmental costs so as to make informed decisions concerning development. Frequently, we have difficulties in perceiving that the development policy cannot be broken away from the environmental policy. It is only by the inclusion of the environmental dimension may we obtain an accurate measurement of the environmental cost of development, very often overlooked or undervalued.”
“This book,” he continued, “by considering the first assessments on the capacity of human resources, i.e. our capacity to work on our own welfare, together with natural resources, and by proposing as a conclusion that these are more important capitals than the assets produced or than finance, represents an enormous contribution to the policy of sustainable development.”
Savino added, “This theoretical and methodological construction allows then for the first time to use quantifiable factors to measure and weight the notion of sustainable development, which can be an ambiguous concept.” The value of environmental services can be significant, according to the report. Recent research has highlighted the value of services provided by natural forests in the Mediterranean region. These services, including sustainable harvest of timber and fuelwood, forage, other non-timber products, and recreational uses, amount to up to $350 per hectare per year.“Measuring the change in total wealth and the change in natural wealth,” said Kirk Hamilton, lead author of Where is the Wealth of Nations, “can contribute to a comprehensive measure of whether a development path is sustainable in the long term. The indicators in ‘Where is the Wealth of Nations’ can guide countries toward a sustainable path.”