Thursday, April 28, 2011

Environmental Justice @ 2011

No doubt that one of the most important forces in environmentalism over the last three decades has been the environmental justice movement.  Leaders in this field -- Bunyan Bryant, Robert BullardSheila Foster, Eileen Gauna, Hazel Johnson, and Beverly Wright, to name only a few -- changed the way environmental issues are seen.  They point out that much of environmental protection has been myopic, and that its focus must change: to include equity, gender, income, race, and, ultimately, justice.

This week, the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Department of the Interior, among others, are sponsoring what looks to be a phenomenal conference on the state of environmental justice today.  From the press release:

The U.S. Department of Energy, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Small Town Alliance, the Howard University School of Law and others, kicked off the State of Environmental Justice in America 2011 Conference today in Washington, D.C.

This year's conference theme is "Building the Clean Energy Economy with Equity," and will focus on climate change, green jobs and equity for low-income, minority and Tribal populations. The goal is to continue bringing together participants from Federal agencies, academia, business and industry, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and local communities to participate in a dialogue on achieving equality of environmental protection.

If you are in or near D.C., it should be time well spent.  The conference's website is here.  The program is here.

-Lincoln Davies

April 28, 2011 in Australia, Economics, Energy, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are Speculators Driving Up Oil Prices?

The Economist published an article Data Diving discussing new data that allows closer analysis of whether speculators are responsible for driving up oil prices.  The short answer according to the speculators is probably not.  And, even if they were, in the Economist's opinion, the critical importance of liquidity overwhelms any effect on higher prices.

The regulatory question is whether the Commodity Futures Trading Commission should limit the positions that speculators such as banks, hedge funds, and others take on oil because of the harmful influence that speculators have on the market.

... whether speculation has really been responsible for spiking prices is a controversial issue. In 2008 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a report dismissing the role of speculators in last year’s startling run-up in prices. But banks, hedge funds and others who bet on oil (without a use for the stuff itself) still face limits on the positions they can take, if Gary Gensler, the new CFTC head, can show that their influence in markets does harm.

New disaggregated data show more clearly the role of speculators in the market:

On September 4th the CFTC added more evidence to the debate by releasing what it said were more transparent data on market positions. Before this month, the CFTC simply classified traders as “commercial” or “non-commercial” in its weekly report on the overall long and short positions in the market. Now it has started to disaggregate them further, into producers and buyers, swap dealers and “managed money”. The third category includes hedge funds.

The new data indicate that speculators (swap dealers and managed money) were long on oil in the week to September 1st, with managed money holding a net long position by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. Those actually involved in the oil business (producers and users) held positions that were net short by similar ratios.  And the swap dealers and managed-money players are bigger in the market, both in terms of the contracts they hold and their own sheer numbers.

So, the speculators constitute the largest amount of the market and they take dramatically opposite positions in the market as compared with producers and users.  Still, the speculators' analysts discount the ability of speculators to affect the market.  I'm not market savvy enough to understand the speculators' analysis proffered by the Economist so would someone out there explain how this tells us that speculators are not influencing the market?

But analysts at Barclays Capital note that long swaps accounted for just 6.4% of total futures and options contracts, not enough to drive prices up on their own. Physical traders held more of the outstanding long positions (10.3%) and held even more short positions. This one set of numbers, in other words, does little to prove that speculators are overriding market fundamentals to drive prices. New quarterly data also released by the CFTC show that money flows to exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in commodities failed to correlate strongly with last year’s price surge.

Maybe some more numbers will help us sort this out (in favor of the speculators):

There are more disclosures to come. The CFTC says it will soon release the newly disaggregated data going back three years. If those numbers, like the quarterly ETF data, are equally unconvincing on the role of speculation, the case for limiting positions will be weakened.

And the Economists' speculator-friendly bottom line:

And a strong counter-argument remains: that speculators provide crucial liquidity. Even if they also have some effect on prices, taking them out of the game could well do more harm than good. It is tempting to look for scapegoats when high prices hurt consumers. But the real culprits for oil-price volatility may be much more familiar: supply, demand and global instability.

September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

World Council of Churches Statement on Eco-Justice and Ecological Debt

Many of us attempt to bring ethical perspectives to bear on issues raised by our classes in addition to ecological and economic perspectives.  Although it may be a bit late for those of you who have already started class, here is the most recent statement by the World Council of Churches on eco-justice and ecological debt.  In a related, but fascinating, note, the WCC as part of its current  programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology is attempting to articulate a consumption and greed line -- in addition to the more typical poverty line.  This would provide practical spiritual guidance on when, in Christian terms, too much is too much.  Check it out!!!


WCC Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt

02.09.09

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee adopted a "Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt" on Wednesday, 2 Sept. The statement proposes that Christians have a deep moral obligation to promote ecological justice by addressing our debts to peoples most affected by ecological destruction and to the earth itself. The statement addresses ecological debt and includes hard economic calculations as well as biblical, spiritual, cultural and social dimensions of indebtedness.

 The statement identifies the current unprecedented ecological crises as being created by humans, caused especially by the agro-industrial-economic complex and the culture of the North, characterized by the consumerist lifestyle and the view of development as commensurate with exploitation of the earth's so-called "natural resources". Churches are being called upon to oppose with their prophetic voices such labeling of the holy creation as mere "natural resources".

 The statement points out that it is a debt owed primarily by industrialized countries in the North to countries of the South on account of historical and current resource-plundering, environmental degradation and the dumping of greenhouse gases and toxic wastes.

In its call for action the statement urges WCC member churches to intervene with their governments to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adopt a fair and binding deal at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, in order to bring the CO2 levels down to less than 350 parts per million (ppm).

 Additionally the statement calls upon the international community to ensure the transfer of financial resources to countries of the south to refrain from oil drilling in fragile environments. Further on, the statement demands the cancellation of the illegitimate financial debts of the southern countries, especially for the poorest nations as part of social and ecological compensation.

In a 31 August hearing on "ecological debt" during the WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Dr Maria Sumire Conde from the Quechua community of Peru shared some ways that the global South has been victimized by greed und unfair use of its resources. In the case of Peru, Sumire said mining has had particularly devastating effects, such as relocation, illness, polluted water,and decreasing biodiversity.

 The concept of ecological debt has been shaped to measure the real cost that policies of expansion and globalization have had on developing nations, a debt that some say industrialized nations should repay. Dr Joan Martinez Alier, a professor at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, said climate change, unequal trade, "bio-piracy", exports of toxic waste and other factors have added to the imbalance, which he called "a kind of war against people around the world, a kind of aggression."

 Martinez went on saying: "I know these are strong words, but this is true." He beseeched those present, at the very least not to increase the existing ecological debt any further.

 The WCC president from Latin America, Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega of Cuba, said ecological debt was a spiritual issue, not just a moral one. "The Bible is an ecological treatise" from beginning to end, Ortega said. She described care for creation as an "axis" that runs through the word of God. "Our pastoral work in our churches must be radically ecological," she said.

 Full text of the statement

 More on the 31 August hearing on ecological debt

 WCC countdown to climate justice

WCC programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology

More information on the 26 August - 2 September 2009 Central Committee meeting

 

September 3, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Religion, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu spreads worldwide -- at least 32 nations have suspected cases, 11 nations have 257 (+ at least 13 not yet reported) confirmed cases with 8 confirmed deaths

Swine Flu World Map

Thursday, April 30th regular AM Update

WHO Update 6 added the Netherlands to the list of countries, with one confirmed case.  The cases from Costa Rica and Peru have not yet been reported to WHO.  The additional New Zealand cases have not yet been reported to WHO.  WHO's Canadian count has jumped from 13 to 19.  WHO's UK count has increased from 5 to 8.  The total count of confirmed cases reported to WHO is now 257.


Thursday, April 30th early AM Update

There's so much to take in that the PM update has become an early AM update.

WHO has not published another update on international reported, confirmed cases. Based on news reports, confirmed cases include  Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (14), Spain (10), the United Kingdom (5), Costa Rica (2) and Peru(1).  In both New Zealand and Spain, there are large numbers of suspected cases that have not yet been confirmed. 

Wednesday, April 29th AM Update

WHO has announced reported confirmed cases in 9 nations; a total of 148 reported confirmed cases; in addition to US and Mexico, confirmed cases include  Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and the United Kingdom (5). The US has reported 91 confirmed cases and 1 death, currently providing a case/fatality ratio of just over 1%.  Mexico has reported 26 confirmed cases and seven deaths.   That would be a case/fatality ratio over 25%, however, the vast bulk of Mexican cases and deaths have not yet been reported and confirmed.  Assuming the number of suspected cases (2517 with 159 suspected deaths) turn out to be accurately identified, this provides a case/fatality ratio of 6+%.  That is about 3 times as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 20- 40 million people.  Fortunately, we have large quantities of anti-viral drugs and have been planning for this event for several years now, so deaths should be extremely limited.


Tuesday April 28th update (PM):

According to AP, the confirmed Canadian cases now number 13, rather than six. AP report Both Spain and Israel now have 2 confirmed cases according to WHO, with WHO reporting 2 confirmed New Zealand cases and 2 confirmed UK cases, rather than the 3 NZ cases previously reported..

Denmark, Columbia, Czech Republic, Australia, and Russia have joined the list of countries with suspected cases.


Tuesday April 28th update (AM):

Israel and New Zealand have confirmed cases.  Switzerland added to suspected case list .Washington Post link  The Washington Post has a nice map, but it only tracks North American cases. WP map  The New York Times has a global map showing both confirmed and suspected cases.  NYT graphic  However, both of the maps are lagging behind -- the NYT didn't pick up the 3 confirmed New Zealand cases or the suspected cases in the EU.


Monday April 27th Update

New Zealand news link

There have been six lab-confirmed cases of mild swine flu in Canada and one in Spain, which became the first country in Europe to confirm a case after a man who returned from a trip to Mexico last week was found to have the virus. Spain has 26 suspected cases under observation and a New Zealand teacher and a dozen students who recently travelled to Mexico are being treated as likely mild cases  Countries including Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Guatemala, Costa Rica and South Korea are all testing suspected cases of the flu. In the first confirmed cases in Britain, Scotland's health minister says two people tested positive for swine flu.

The Scottish cases bring the number of nations with confirmed cases to five and the number of nations with suspected cases to 14.

April 30, 2009 in Australia, EU, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, Science, Travel, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How this virus developed and why it may be a killer

The Mexican swine flu virus is a swine influenza A/H1N1 virus hybridized (mixed) with human and bird viruses.  We have some immunity to human flu and to some strains of swine influenza A/H1N1;  We don't have immunity to bird flu, which is why that virus is so virulent - with a kill ratio of almost 50% -- and why so much pandemic planning and preparedness focused on bird flu.

New Scientist reports:

This type of virus emerged in the US in 1998 and has since become endemic on hog farms across North America. Equipped with a suite of pig, bird and human genes, it was also evolving rapidly.  Flu infects many animals, including waterfowl, pigs and humans. Birds and people rarely catch flu viruses adapted to another host, but they can pass flu to pigs, which also have their own strains.If a pig catches two kinds of flu at once it can act as a mixing vessel, and hybrids can emerge with genes from both viruses. This is what happened in the US in 1998. Until then, American pigs had regular winter flu, much like people, caused by a mutated virus from the great human pandemic of 1918, which killed pigs as well as at least 50 million people worldwide. This virus was a member of the H1N1 family - with H and N being the virus's surface proteins haemagglutinin and neuraminidase.  Over decades, H1N1 evolved in pigs into a mild, purely swine flu, and became genetically fairly stable. In 1976, there was an outbreak of swine H1N1 in people at a military camp [Fort Dix] in New Jersey, with one death. The virus did not spread efficiently, though, and soon fizzled out.

But in 1998, says Richard Webby of St Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, swine H1N1 hybridised with human and bird viruses, resulting in "triple reassortants" that surfaced in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. The viruses initially had human surface proteins and swine internal proteins, with the exception of three genes that make RNA polymerase, the crucial enzyme the virus uses to replicate in its host. Two were from bird flu and one from human flu. Researchers believe that the bird polymerase allows the virus to replicate faster than those with the human or swine versions, making it more virulent.

By 1999, these viruses comprised the dominant flu strain in North American pigs and, unlike the swine virus they replaced, they were actively evolving. There are many versions with different pig or human surface proteins, including one, like the Mexican flu spreading now, with H1 and N1 from the original swine virus. All these viruses still contained the same "cassette" of internal genes, including the avian and human polymerase genes, reports Amy Vincent of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Ames, Iowa (Advances in Virus Research, vol 72, p 127). "They are why the swine versions of this virus easily outcompete those that don't have them," says Webby.

But the viruses have been actively switching surface proteins to evade the pigs' immunity. There are now so many kinds of pig flu that it is no longer seasonal. One in five US pig producers actually makes their own vaccines, says Vincent, as the vaccine industry cannot keep up with the changes. This rapid evolution posed the "potential for pandemic influenza emergence in North America", Vincent said last year. Webby, too, warned in 2004 that pigs in the US are "an increasingly important reservoir of viruses with human pandemic potential". One in five US pig workers has been found to have antibodies to swine flu, showing they have been infected, but most people have no immunity to these viruses.

The virus's rapid evolution created the potential for a pandemic to emerge in North America.  Our immune response to flu, which makes the difference between mild and potentially lethal disease, is mainly to the H surface protein. The Mexican virus carries the swine version, so the antibodies we carry to human H1N1 viruses will not recognise it. That's why the CDC warned last year that swine H1N1 would "represent a pandemic threat" if it started circulating in humans. The avian polymerase genes are especially worrying, as similar genes are what make H5N1 bird flu lethal in mammals and what made the 1918 human pandemic virus so lethal in people. "We can't yet tell what impact they will have on pathogenicity in humans," says Webby. It appears the threat has now resulted in the Mexican flu. "The triple reassortant in pigs seems to be the precursor," Robert Webster, also at St Jude's, told New Scientist.

While researchers focused on livestock problems could see the threat developing, it is not one that medical researchers focused on human flu viruses seemed to have been aware of. "It was confusing when we looked up the gene sequences in the database," says Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London, who has been studying swine flu from the recent US cases. "The polymerase gene sequences are bird and human, yet they were reported in viruses from pigs."

So where did the Mexican virus originate? The Veratect Corporation based in Kirkland, Washington, monitors world press and government reports to provide early disease warnings for clients, including the CDC. Their first inkling of the disease was a 2 April report of a surge in respiratory disease in a town called La Gloria, east of Mexico City, which resulted in the deaths of three young children. Only on 16 April - after Easter week, when millions of Mexicans travel to visit relatives - reports surfaced elsewhere in the country.

Local reports in La Gloria blamed pig farms in nearby Perote owned by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of US hog giant Smithfield Foods. The farms produce nearly a million pigs a year. Smithfield Foods, in a statement, insists there are "no clinical signs or symptoms" of swine flu in its pigs or workers in Mexico. That is unsurprising, as the company says it "routinely administers influenza virus vaccination to swine herds and conducts monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza." The company would not tell New Scientist any more about recent tests. USDA researchers say that while vaccination keeps pigs from getting sick, it does not block infection or shedding of the virus.

All the evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen. But it got little research attention, perhaps because it caused mild infections in people which didn't spread. Now one swine flu virus has stopped being so well-behaved.

This leads us to the policy question: why should humans keep pigs?  Like other meat, pigs consume an extraordinary amount of resources to provide nutrition.  Maybe the ancient Israelites had an insight that we have lacked -- there may be more wisdom in the Torah and its laws than we knew.  Perhaps it is time, or past time, for our eating habits to evolve lest an even more virulent strain of swine flu develop.  Assuming that this pandemic passes without too many deaths, we may need to rethink whether it is good to keep large quantities of pigs.  For now, the virulent bird flu does not seem easily communicable.  Let's keep it that way. 

April 29, 2009 in Agriculture, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, North America, Religion, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oil Spill along Australia's Sunshine Coast

Reuter's reported tomorrow -- the joys of the international dateline -- that Queensland premier Anna Bligh declared Moreton Island, Bribie Island and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast to be disaster zones after an oil spill from a cargo ship spread over 60 kilometers of beach.  The cargo ship carries 100 tons of oil and the spill from the ship is far larger than initial reports indicated.  The cargo ship's hull was pierced by a container swept overboard in heavy seas caused by a cyclone near the area.  The clean-up of the spill will be difficult due to the heavy seas and high tides from the cyclone and the spill is being carried into rivers in the area.  The Queensland EPA reports that the spill has already affected seabirds and turtles.

By the standards of major oil spills, the Australian spill is unremarkable.  The Exxon Valdez spill involved nearly 11 million gallons or 5500 tons of crude oil.  But, like the Exxon Valdez, this spill occurred in an ecologically sensitive area and an area dependent in part on a large tourist industry.  When we weigh the small probabilities of large spills associated with various activities, such as offshore oil drilling, with the possible benefits of that activity, we need to carefully examine how close any spill might be to ecologically sensitive areas and areas dependent on tourism.  The lesson of the Exxon Valdez is that even the most expensive cleanups cannot fully recover many of the living resources that are destroyed by oil spills close to shore.

For those of you who were not alive or may have forgotten, the Exxon Valdez spill was one of the most destructive oil spills in history.  Here's an account of that spill that I recently wrote:

EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by Exxon Corporation, went aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.  The oil tanker had just departed the Valdez terminal with over 53 million gallons of crude oil, transported from Prudhoe Bay Oilfields through the Alaskan pipeline bound for Exxon’s West Coast refineries.  The vessel spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, and the oil eventually covered 11,000 square miles of ocean and 1300 miles of shoreline.  The oil spill immediately killed between 250,000 to 500,000 seabirds, more than 1,000 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 orca whales, and billions of herring and salmon eggs. 

Today, twenty years after the spill, 26,000 gallons of oil remain contaminating roughly six kilometers of shoreline.  Of the thirty-one natural resources identified by the Natural Resources Trustee as affected by the spill, ten have recovered during the last 20 years, fourteen are still recovering, two have made no progress toward recovery (herring and pigeon guillemot), and five lack sufficient data to determine the extent of recovery. 

The Exxon Valdez oil spill is still considered the most environmentally damaging oil spill to date, even though it is no longer in the top 50 oil spills in terms of the size of the spill.  As the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has indicated, “[t]he timing of the spill, the remote and spectacular location, the thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of other spills.”

The Accident

After a harbor pilot successfully navigated the Exxon Valdez through the Valdez Narrows, he returned control of the ship to Captain Joseph Hazelwood.  To avoid icebergs in the outbound shipping lane, Hazelwood maneuvered the ship into the inbound shipping lane.  Hazelwood then put the ship on autopilot and left a third mate in charge of the wheelhouse and an able seaman at the helm.  The crew failed to reenter the outbound shipping lane.  While Hazelwood was relaxing in his stateroom, the Exxon Valdez went aground on Bligh Reef, rupturing eight of her eleven cargo holds. 

Hazelwood, who Exxon knew was an alcohol abuser who had not completed treatment and had stopped attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, had drunk five double shots of vodka, amounting to 15 ounces of 80 proof alcohol, shortly before leaving Valdez.  In addition, neither of the crewmen Hazelwood placed in charge of the tanker had their mandatory rest period before beginning duty.  The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the accident identified five factors that contributed to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez: the third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue and an excessive workload; the captain failed to provide navigation watch, possibly due to impairment from alcohol; Exxon failed to supervise the captain and provide a rested and sufficient crew for the vessel; the U.S. Coast Guard failed to provide an effective vessel traffic system; and lack of effective pilot and escort services from the Valdez terminal through Prince William Sound.

Litigation

Five separate sets of lawsuits arose out of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. 

First, Exxon Shipping pled guilty to negligent discharge of pollutants under Clean Water Act (CWA) section 309 as well as criminal violations of the Refuse Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  Exxon pled guilty to criminal violations of the MBTA. Exxon was fined $150 million, the largest fine ever imposed for an environmental crime. The court forgave $125 million of that fine in recognition of Exxon’s cooperation in cleaning up the spill and paying certain private claims. Of the remaining $25 million, $12 million went to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and $13 million went to the national Victims of Crime Fund.   As criminal restitution for the injuries caused to the fish, wildlife, and lands of the spill region, Exxon agreed to pay $100 million, evenly divided between the federal and state governments.

Second, the federal and state governments sue Exxon Shipping and Exxon under CWA section 311 and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act section 107, to recover damages to natural resources for which the governments are trustees.  In settlement of those civil claims, Exxon agreed to pay $900 million with annual payments stretched over a 10-year period. The settlement also contained a $100 million reopener for funds to restore resources that suffered a substantial loss or decline as a result of the oil spill, the injuries to which could not have been known or anticipated by the trustees at the time of the settlement.  The United States demanded the full $100 million under the reopener provision in 2006.

Third, within two or three years of the accident, Exxon settled the claims of various fishermen and property owners for $ 303 million. 

Fourth, a class action involving tort claims against Exxon, Hazelwood, and others by commercial fishermen, Native Americans, and property owners resulted in a $ 5 billion jury verdict against Exxon.  That jury verdict was reduced by the 9th Circuit to $ 2.5 billion and the U.S. Supreme Court in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker vacated the 9th Circuit award, limiting punitive damages against Exxon to $ 507.5 million, the same amount of compensatory damages, in addition to the compensatory damages due to plaintiffs. 

Finally, Captain Hazelwood was prosecuted by the State of Alaska for operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and negligent discharge of oil.  Despite evidence that Hazelwood had consumed numerous alcoholic beverages before departing Valdez and still had alcohol in his blood many hours after the accident, an Alaskan jury found him not guilty of the operating under the influence charge. The jury did find him guilty of negligent discharge of oil.  Hazelwood was fined $50,000 and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service in Alaska. 

Resulting Legislation

Frequently environmental legislation is the result of a dramatic event or environmental accident.  In the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress reacted by enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which created a fund to finance oil spill cleanup when parties do not voluntarily clean up oil spills for which they are responsible, set up a broad liability scheme to provide a federal cause of action for cleanup and other damages arising out of oil spills, set standards for oil tankers and oil storage facilities to avoid future spills and improve spill response, and sought to improve emergency responses to oil spills through regional contingency planning. 

For more information about the environmental impacts of the spill and the clean-up that was undertaken under the auspices of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, visit the Council's website.   http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/



 

March 15, 2009 in Australia, Biodiversity, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The New Subsistence Society

Sometimes its a good idea to stand back and contemplate the universe.  Today's early news that the Dow Jones Industrial Index took another header because of AIG's $60+ billion loss prompts me to do that. 
Dow_3209
What is the vector of our society?  What will it look like after all the dust has settled?  It is not just the financial crisis that prompts me to contemplate this.  Although the phrase is over-used, we are in the midst of a perfect storm -- a global economy that creates and distributes goods and services through the internet, computerized machines and cheap labor virtual collapse of the financial system, the advent of peak oil, and the climate crisis.  How will all of these things cumulatively affect our future?

We've lived with the first problem for decades now -- what do people do as they  become less and less important to production of goods and services.  The science fiction of our times: what happens when people and their primary asset, labor, becomes virtually superfluous.  Certainly countries with high labor costs relative to Asia and South America already are beginning to experience the problem.  Computerized machines can plant, water, and harvest the fields; robots can make the cars and prefabricated housing; department stores, bank branches, car dealers, even retail grocery stores can be replaced by internet marketing; 100 law professors lecturing to law students and 1000 college professors lecturing to college students is more than enough -- creating the prospect of a British or continental education system, with those professors raised to unseemly heights and the remainder left to do the grunge work of tutors; even more radically, 100 K-12 teachers can teach a nation of students with computer graded exams, if we believe that convergent answers are the goal of education; priests and ministers can be replaced by TV showmen and megachurch performers. 

So what do the other 6.95 billion of us do?  Now, we consume.  Voraciously.  If we don't, then the basics can be provided by a very few and the rest of us become unwanted baggage.  A non-consumer is a drag on the system.  We depend on the velocity of money, excess consumption, and inefficiency to provide each of us with a job and to maintain the current economy.

And what happens when money moves at a crawl, when people stop consuming, when production becomes life-threatening to the planet, and when a key resource for production, oil, reaches the point of no return???  The answer is a new subsistence economy.  A new world where a few are need to produce, a few more can consume, and the remainder have no economic role and are left to subsist as best they can.

Admittedly, it will be subsistence at a higher level -- through the internet, computerization, and technology, each of us will have the capacity to do things for ourselves that are beyond the imagination of today's impoverished subsistence farmers.  But, relative to those who own all of the means of production, a few entertainers (be they basketball players, lecturers, moviestars, or mega-church leaders), and a few laborers (building the machines, computers, the information infrastructure and doing basic and applied research), we will all be poor.  Perhaps only relatively and perhaps only in material terms.  But poor, living at a subsistence level, consuming food from our own gardens, building our own houses, wearing clothes for function not fashion, educating our own children through the internet, capturing essential power through distributed energy, and buying very little of goods that are bound to be too expensive for most -- probably just computers.  It won't necessarily be bad.  Perhaps we can refocus on relationships, family, community, art, music, literature, and life, rather than define ourselves in terms of our job and our things.  Perhaps we can refocus on spirituality instead of materialism. Who knows?  Maybe the new society won't be such a bad thing after all -- at least if we insist that the few who have the privilege of production have a responsibility to share the wealth with the many.

March 2, 2009 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)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

President Obama's "State of the Union" Speech

The White House has published the "Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of Congress" as prepared for delivery on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009. White House link   The President called for Congress to send him a cap and trade bill to address climate change and stressed investments in clean energy as the path to America's future.  What a difference from last year!

As the President says about the long term investments that are absolutely critical to our economic future:

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.  And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.  We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.  New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.  We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country.  And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.  So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.  And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink.  We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.  But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win.  Millions of jobs depend on it.  Scores of communities depend on it.  And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy.  But this is America.  We don’t do what’s easy.  We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

Continue reading

February 25, 2009 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)

Creating a Sustainable Society - the Role of Social Entrepreneurs and Volunteers

Today, the House Committee on Education and Labor had a Congressional hearing on volunteerism. Both Van Jones and Cheryl Dorsey testified to the value of volunteerism for the future of the green movement and social entrepreneurship.  Cheryl Dorsey’s video testimony can be found here Dorsey video link  and her written testimony is here. Dorsey written link  Van Jones’ video testimony is here Jones video link  and his written testimony is here.Jones' written link   Although we frequently focus on using regulation to control traditional profit-oriented business endeavors, it's good to remind ourselves that social entrepreneurs and volunteers can make a real difference in the quality of life in our communities as well as the quality of the environment.

February 25, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, North America, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition

Congratulations to all of the participants in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition held at Pace University during the last few days.  Roughly 70 law schools participated in the competition, which featured a difficult and oft-times confusing problem about salvage of a Spanish shipwreck.  The law covered by the problem included admiralty law, administrative law, international law such as the UNESCO treaty and the Law of the Sea, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and for good measure, the Submerged Military Craft Act.  Just typing that list makes me tired!

The learning is in participating, but the honors for Best Briefs go to University of Houston, Georgetown, and University of California at Davis, with Houston winning overall Best Brief.  The Best Oralist Honor goes to Louisiana State University.  The final round of the competition featured Lewis & Clark law school, University of Utah, and Louisiana State. Lewis & Clark prevailed, winning the overall competition for the 2d time in a row.  If I recall correctly, that may be the first back to back win.  Congratulations to everyone!

The students of Pace University deserve special mention for sacrificing their ability to compete and for running a flawless competition.  More details can be found at the NELMCC site.

February 25, 2009 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)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Christopher Field and Anny Cazenave AAAS reports on rapidly worsening climate change

On Saturday, I noted the AAAS meeting report on climate change by Christopher Brown.Climate change worsens more rapidly than IPCC anticipated   Here's a bit more on Christopher Field's report from MSNBC:

Carbon emissions have been growing at 3.5 percent per year since 2000, up sharply from the 0.9 percent per year in the 1990s..."It is now outside the entire envelope of possibilities" considered in the 2007 report of the International Panel on Climate Change...The largest factor is the widespread adoption of coal as an energy source... "and without aggressive attention societies will continue to focus on the energy sources that are cheapest, and that means coal."  Past projections for declines in the emissions of greenhouse gases were too optimistic, he added. No part of the world had a decline in emissions from 2000 to 2008.

Anny Cazenave of France's National Center for Space Studies [reported] that improved satellite measurements show that sea levels are rising faster than had been expected... Rising oceans can pose a threat to low level areas such as South Florida, New York and other coastal areas as the ocean warms and expands and as water is added from melting ice sheets...And the rise is uneven, with the fastest rising areas at about 1 centimeter — 0.39 inch — per year in parts of the North Atlantic, western Pacific and the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica...

MSNBC link
 

February 15, 2009 in Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Energy, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Red Queens or Court Jesters: How Species Evolve

A review in this month's science by Michael Benton discusses two prominent models of evolution.Science article  The abstract and some snippets of the article are below:

Evolution may be dominated by biotic factors, as in the Red Queen model, or abiotic factors, as in the Court Jester model, or a mixture of both. The two models appear to operate predominantly over different geographic and temporal scales: Competition, predation, and other biotic factors shape ecosystems locally and over short time spans, but extrinsic factors such as climate and oceanographic and tectonic events shape larger-scale patterns regionally and globally, and through thousands and millions of years. Paleobiological studies suggest that species diversity is driven largely by abiotic factors such as climate, landscape, or food supply, and comparative phylogenetic approaches offer new insights into clade dynamics. 

Continue reading

February 5, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Energy, North America, Physical Science, South America | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chartering Sustainable Transnational Corporations

This link connects to a paper I just posted on SSRN.  I presented the paper at the 6th Colloquium of the IUCN International Academy of Environmental Law in Mexico City in November 2008.  I am submitting a short version of the paper for possible publication in a book incorporating papers presented at the conference on the theme of Alleviating Poverty and Environmental Protection.  And I am preparing a more complete and elaborate version for possible law review publication.  I would deeply appreciate your comments on the subject of how we ensure that transnational corporations act in a sustainable manner and the obstacles or concerns with the approach I suggest.  SSRN link

Abstract:    
Using a recent innovative Oregon sustainable corporation law as a springboard, this article argues for requiring all transnational corporations to be chartered as sustainable corporations. Given the far-reaching effects of their operations and their uniquely powerful role, the global wealth that has been accumulated in these organizations must be fundamentally redirected toward creating a sustainable world. As a privilege of doing transnational business, transnational corporations should be required to incorporate environmental and social responsibility into their corporate charters-the document that sets forth the prime mission of the corporation and its directors, essentially baking sustainability into the corporate DNA of transnational corporations.

To be both effective and to harness the entrepreneurial creativity of these organizations, the sustainable corporation charter must be implemented per provisions that require transnational corporations to develop corporate sustainability strategies in accordance with the guidance provided by the implementing provisions. The implementing provisions should also require that the transnational corporations monitor and report in a standardized manner compliance with the corporate sustainability strategy, with sustainability-related laws, and with nonbinding environmental, labor, human rights, corruption, and other sustainability-related standards.

The sustainable corporation charter requirement should be imposed as a matter of international law, through an international convention and administered by an international commission. The requirements should be directly applicable to transnational corporations as a condition of doing transnational business. The commission should be authorized to take enforcement action directly against the corporation. In addition, both home and host nations to transnational corporations should agree to compel the corporations - either incorporated in that nation or doing business in that nation-to comply with the sustainable corporation charter requirement as a condition of doing any business. Nations that fail to join the international convention, or that fail to enforce the international convention, should be subject to mandatory trade and other economic sanctions by all signatories to the international agreement.

We can no longer allow transnational corporations to aggregate the bulk of societal wealth and then operate in an environmentally and socially irresponsible manner. The proposals in this article are one step toward turning transnational corporations into sustainable corporations.

Keywords: transnational corporations, corporate charters, multi-national corporations, sustainability, environmental, international convention, environmental assessment, voluntary compliance, environmental standards, alien tort, corporate social responsibility, human rights, international law, enforcement

February 1, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Let Clean Water Flow

Here's my church's video to launch our 2009 Drink Water for Life lenten challenge.  If you benefit from the work I do on this blog, please, please, please......take the challenge or find another way to contribute to organizations that do community-based water projects.  Church World Service or Global Ministries are great faith-based organizations.  Water for Life and Water for People are great secular groups. Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water borne disease like cholera or dysentery from lack of clean water and sanitation.  Together, we can change this.  Village by village. 

Let Clean Water Flow 

January 23, 2009 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)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Most of the green team confirmed today: Jackson, Sutley, and Clinton remain

E & E News reported:

The Senate unanimously confirmed seven of President Barack Obama's Cabinet picks today, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, but postponed debate on his nominees to lead the State Department, U.S. EPA and White House Council on Environmental Quality...In a post-inauguration session, the Senate quickly approved Chu, Salazar, Vilsack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also scheduled a 3 p.m. roll call vote for tomorrow on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama's nominee to be secretary of the State Department.... The Senate did not take up two other Obama nominations: Lisa Jackson to be the next EPA administrator and Nancy Sutley to be the chairwoman of the White House CEQ. Both nominees did not face significant scrutiny during their confirmation hearings last week, leaving several Senate Republican and Democratic leadership aides today searching for answers about who was holding up the two Obama environmental picks....Andrew Wheeler, Republican staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) supports both nominees and isn't sure who raised the objection to Jackson and Sutley's confirmations, though he said the objection to Sutley being confirmed today was because her position is not Cabinet-level.

January 20, 2009 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, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Visitors from Mozambique and Inaugural Awe

Today I had the pleasure as Director of our law school's Certificate Program in Law and Government to host two visitors from Mozambique through the International Leadership Visitor Program funded by the State Department.  This program focuses on bringing emerging leaders from developing countries concerned with good governance to the United States, to expose them first-hand to various aspects of American governance.  Last year, we hosted 16 visitors from more than a dozen African countries.  Today's session was more informal and a bit more manageable.

Our visitors were the Governor of a northern province and the second in command of a major department within the national government.  They were interested in learning how the United States trains its graduate or advanced students in law and government.  We were able to share some aspects of our program, including attending and speaking with my first year Lawmaking Process class.  They were also fascinated by how the United States is evolving with its election of President Obama. 

The treat, of course, for me was to learn first-hand something about Mozambique, its politics and policy, and role in Africa.  Certainly, its thorough integration of woman into the power structure and into all aspects of administration is a lesson for Americans as well as other Africans.  This is beginning to happen here, witness Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, the corps of talented Governors through the US and the league of women joining the Obama administration.  But, until a woman stands where President Obama stood today, we still lag behind virtually every developed country in the world -- and many, such as Mozambique, in the developed world.  Women took their place in the struggle for independence in Mozambique -- even on the battlefield.  They have continued to serve in Parliament and throughout government, with stature and an assured equality that American woman still lack.

Their challenge is to solidify their independence and their emerging democracy -- and to solve the problem of poverty.  There, President Obama gave them reason to hope: "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.  And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our boders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect.  For the world has changed, and we must change with it."

As you who read this blog regularly no doubt realize, these words, especially about providing clean water and reducing our consumption of resources, were music to my ears.  And perhaps to yours.

We have a President who in the midst of the raging storms of the failure of our economy and two wars, understands that "each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."  That the work to be done includes the promise that "[w]e will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories."  That "we will work tirelessly...to roll back the specter of a warming planet."

As my new friends from Mozambique realize, President Obama has not become just an American president, but he is today the most important leader of the whole world.  Not just by virtue of our relative prosperity and military power, but by virtue of our willingness to turn the page of history and to pledge to live up to our responsibilities to people seeking peace and justice and equality and means to enjoy their full measure of happiness throughout the world.

Today, my friends, let us celebrate with all of our new friends...and pledge ourselves to making this vision become a reality, in law, in policy, and in how we conduct our obscure, everyday lives.

January 20, 2009 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, January 4, 2009

Biofuel Soars on Air New Zealand

Due to the poor EO/EI ratio of biofuel and its competition with food crops, most of us are skeptical about widespread use of biofuel to meet transportation needs.  However, air transportation is one of the few sectors where finding alternative energy sources is difficult.  So, the recent and forthcoming tests of various biofuels in the air transportation sector are noteworthy, especially when strict conditions are placed on biofuel production.  In one recent test, Air New Zealand set three requirements for sustainable biofuel:

(1) the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources;

(2) the fuel must be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the product used today; and

(3)the fuel must be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.

Environmental News Service reported in more detail:

A passenger jet with one of its four engines running on a biofuel blend today completed the world's first commercial aviation test flight to test a biofuel made from jatropha.  The test flight was a joint initiative with partners Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell's UOP. The two hour Air New Zealand test flight was powered by a second-generation biofuel made from the seeds of the jatropha plant that could reduce emissions and cut costs. The flight was the first to use jatropha jatropha seed oil as part of a biofuel mix [50% jatropha, 50% jet fuel]....

   
Air New Zealand test plane (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
       
 
                 
Jatropha seed pods (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
 

Jatropha is a plant that produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce the fuel. Each seed produces 30-40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops....

The jatropha used on Tuesday's flight was grown in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, the airline said. The criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades.

 

Jatropha grows on poor soil and in arid climates not suitable for most food crops. The jatropha farms that grew the seeds for this test flight are rain-fed and not mechanically irrigated.

The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria. Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and refining technology developer UOP. The process utilized UOP technology to produce jet fuel that can serve as a direct replacement for traditional petroleum jet fuel.

Air New Zealand aims to meet 10 percent of its fuel needs through sustainable biofuel by 2013. In February, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines. In January, two more airlines will test their biofuel blends. Continental Airlines on January 7 will conduct a test flight powered by a blend involving algae and jatropha. The flight will be the first biofuel flight by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source, the first using a two-engine aircraft, and the first biofuel demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner.  On January 30, Japan Airlines is planning a test flight from Tokyo using a fuel based on the camelina oilseed as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

January 4, 2009 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

More on Ocean Acidification

OCEAN SCIENCE: Winter Carbonate Collapse

H. Jesse Smith

Anthropogenic fossil-fuel burning is increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which in turn is causing more CO2 to dissolve in the ocean, thereby lowering the water's pH. Such ocean acidification in turn decreases the concentration of carbonate ion (CO3)2-, which makes it more difficult for calcifying organisms such as foraminifera, pteropods, and corals to build their skeletons. So far, most of the attention paid to this process has focused on the time-averaged chemistry of the ocean, but organisms actually experience seasonal carbonate and pH variations. McNeil and Matear examine these variations and show that anthropogenic CO2 uptake is likely to induce winter aragonite undersaturation in some regions of the ocean when atmospheric CO2 levels reach 450 parts per million. These findings underscore the importance of understanding the seasonal dynamics of marine carbonate chemistry, as natural variability could hasten the deleterious impacts of future ocean acidification. -- HJS Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105, 18860 (2008).

January 1, 2009 in Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Rate of Calcification of Coral Reefs Declining

Science reports on a new study showing that both rising ocean water temperatures and ocean acidification are causing a reduced rate of calcification of coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef.  Coral reefs are threatened by from rising sea-surface temperatures, ocean acidification (the declining pH of surface seawater layers caused by the absorption of increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2), pollution, and overexploitation. Other studies have demonstrated  declines in the coverage and numbers of live coral reefs, as well as reduced coral diversity, but few examined how rates of coral calcification have been affected. The study by De'ath et al. examined growth patterns of 328 massive Porites corals from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and found that their rates of calcification have declined by nearly 15% since 1990, to values lower than any seen for the past 400 years. The main causes of this continuing decline appear to be increasing water temperatures and ocean acidification.Science today link

January 1, 2009 in Air Quality, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Haiti's Resurrection

Dear Readers and Friends:

It is so difficult this time of year to decide how to spend one's limited resources in a way consistent with our duty to reduce human suffering and make the world a better place.  It is especially difficult now, when all of us are a bit uncertain about our financial future and have lost a considerable amount of our paper wealth.  But, I am concentrating for now on Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere. Below I post a letter from a friend in Haiti, in the hope that some of you may help in the resurrection of Haiti after this fall's hurricane season. Obviously, my friend is a Christian (as I am), but human need knows no religion.  Be assured that any money sent him through the church will be used to meet profound human need, not the promotion of a creed.  And, if you are reluctant to send money to a faith-based organization, just let me know and I'll be happy to find a secular route for your gift.

[We] are writing you all with a great mix of emotions – sadness and frustration, great doubts, fear, but also some sense of hope. Many of you already know that in the past five weeks, Haiti was affected by four hurricanes – Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, resulting in profound destruction throughout the entire country. Chavannes Jean Baptiste, the director of MPP (Mouvman Peyizan Papay–Farmer’s Movement of Papay) noted this past Monday that the situation is without precedent.  MPP along with other national and international organizations are beginning to get a grasp of the level of havoc and devastation, but it seems impossible that anyone will ever be able to make a full accounting of the loss of life and property.


Many of the root causes of the poverty in Haiti–weak government, inadequate communication, lack of roads and other infrastructure, virtually non-existent social services–have always kept Haitind other countries with similar conditions, open to the full effects of disasters such as this. These same conditions now make it difficult and in some cases impossible for a quick response to those who need help the most. It is even nearly impossible to know who needs the help the most. In the last two days, I have received reports via e-mail of whole communities without food and water, with no help in sight. Lack of real roads have always been part of the isolation of many of these communities. Now, the serious damage to bridges and other weak points along the roads that do exist has increased the number of people who are isolated from any easy access, as well as deepening the level of isolation for those who have always lived at the limits.


Given all this, [our] sense of sadness is easy to understand. We live along side people who carry on their daily lives with grace, great generosity and wonderful senses of humor, despite the profound limitations. Now, these same people, some of whom are close personal friends, have lost homes and possessions and we know they have no real resources, or hope, for recuperating their losses. We have a great need to help, but we ourselves do not have the ability to provide any help that seems significant, even at the local level. Not even for just the families who are part of MPP – at least 52 families whose homes were flooded last week. Multiply the needs of the folks in Hinche by all of communities in nearly every part of Haiti, you can easily understand our frustration. What can we do? Within the sadness and frustration I also feel some guilt, because we ourselves are safe and suffered no damage at all to our home or even to the project where I work.


We also wonder whether the kind of help that is starting to come could possibly be adequate, given the enormous need. And will the assistance that comes be directed to address some of the root causes of poverty in  Haiti?  Will the funds help rebuild roads and bridges so that they are better than they were, or will the be used to make the highways and byways merely passable, subject as always to rapid degradation by even normal use? And will the international lending agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund, encourage the Haitian government to create “safety nets” that can help families and communities recuperate losses? Or will they follow their standard policy, insisting on budgetary stringency, regardless of the needs of the most vulnerable–the poor in general, and women, children and the aged in particular?


It is impossible to write about the current catastrophe without mentioning as well the ongoing global wide crises of food prices which are spiraling out of US control. In the project that I help coordinate – the crew prepares and shares two meals a day. We produce all of the vegetables for these meals ourselves, but for the items we can’t produce (corn, rice, coffee, oil etc), we paid a total of around  $100 in  May.  In August, we spent around $135 for the same supplies and in September we spent $175. In a country where over half the population earns less than $US 1.00 a day, the situation was devastating, before the flooding will now die from hunger, giving in at last to ongoing deprivation?


And the fear we feel, where does that come from? Haitians have a marvelous way of dealing with difficult situations that I have come to respect a great deal. They sing, they laugh, they joke and suddenly, the load lightens and the way forward opens up again. There is also a great deal of tolerance, or patience, with unjust conditions. But there are limits. The suffering from the food crisis was becoming nearly insufferable before the hurricanes. If there is not a rapid, reliable and comprehensive response to the current situation, especially by the Haitian government, there will almost surely be massive unrest, probably focused, as always, in Port au Prince, the capital of     Haiti.


At the end of such a letter, what could we say about hope that could balance the discouragement I’m sure you can sense in what I write? First and foremost is faith – [our] faith as well as the profound faith of Haitians in general. We do believe in a God who makes a way where there is no way – our God who sent our savior, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, not only to demonstrate God’s profound solidarity with his chosen people, but also to completely and finally put an end to despair. Because we are Christ followers, we hope, and there is nothing that can separate us from that hope, from the constant renewal of that hope. As [we] and several crew members were heading south, into Port au Prince,... we passed through an area just north of the city of    Mirebelais (Mee be lay) where the farmers have access to irrigation. In field after field as we traveled down the road, farmers were out in those fields transplanting rice, hoeing rice, irrigating rice. Just one day after Hurricane Ike had passed through, the fields were already moving from devastation into abundance, farmers moving from being victims to being the agents of their own resurrection. What a miracle. What a God.


Note:

Please be part of Haiti’s resurrection. Contributions for the crisis in Haiti may be sent to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). Please write on the check “DR-000064 Haiti Emergency.” Mail it to:

Presbyterian Church (USA)
Individual Remittance Processing
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh PA 15264-3700 

 

December 18, 2008 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)