Archive for June, 2008

Rich nations attacked over biofuels

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Rich countries came under attack on Tuesday at the United Nations food summit for their biofuel subsidies and production targets, declining spending on development aid for agriculture and large subsidies to European and US farmers.

Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, told heads of state and governments gathered in Rome that ”nobody” understood why cereals had been diverted from human consumption ”mostly to satisfy a thirst for fuel vehicles”.

In an unexpectedly strong attack on western countries’ policies, he added that ”nobody understands” why rich countries had ”distorted world markets with the $272bn (€175bn, £138bn) spent on supporting their agriculture.” Mr Diouf said: ”The problem of food insecurity is a political one.”

Delegates and some FAO officials were surprised by his remarks, which opened a three-day summit in Rome to discuss ways to tackle soaring food prices. The cost of agricultural commodities has doubled since 2005.


Images reveal ‘rapid forest loss’

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

– The red emphasis, below, is mine. Again and again, we read of government authorities noticing the problems with deforestation and beginning actions to protect forests. And then two or three years later, a new report is issued and once again the problem get press and the government notices again and more promises are made.

– And, in the end, nothing happens – and the trees continue to fall and the profiteers continue to profit – and we all lose.

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High-resolution satellite images have revealed the “rapid deforestation” of Papua New Guinea’s biodiversity rich rainforests over the past 30 years.

An international team of researchers estimates that the current rate of loss could result in more than half of the nation’s tree cover being lost by 2021.

They added that the main threats came from commercial logging and burning.

Existing conservation measures were failing to protect the world’s third largest rainforest, the team concluded.

Scientists from the University of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Australian National University spent five years analysing satellite images that showed deforestation and habitat destruction between 1972 and 2002.

They estimated that in 2001 the nation’s accessible forests were being cleared or degraded at an annual rate of 362,000 hectares (3,620 sq km).

The images also showed that trees in protected areas were being felled at the same rate as unprotected regions, the team added.

Although it only accounts for less than 0.5% of the Earth’s land cover, the heavily forested island nation is home to an estimated 6-7% of the planet’s species.

“It is still one of the most forested nations on the planet,” said lead author Phil Shearman.

“However, the report details how the forests are being lost at a far higher rate than previously thought.”


Desert is claiming southeast Spain

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Lush fields of lettuce and hothouses of tomatoes line the roads. Verdant new developments of plush pastel vacation homes beckon buyers from Britain and Germany. Golf courses – 54 of them, all built in the past decade and most in the past three years – give way to the beach. At last, this hardscrabble corner of southeast Spain is thriving.

There is only one problem with this picture of bounty: This province, Murcia, is running out of water. Spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development, swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert.

This year in Murcia farmers are fighting developers over water rights. They are fighting each other over who gets to water their crops. And in a sign of their mounting desperation, they are buying and selling water like gold on a burgeoning black market.

“Water will be the environmental issue this year,” said Barbara Helferrich, spokeswoman for the European Union’s Environment Directorate. “The problem is urgent and immediate.”


Sarkozy calls for immigrant crackdown

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Plans for a Europe-wide clampdown on immigration that could see asylum-seekers forced to apply for refugee status in advance and more effective deportation measures, are to be at the heart of France’s European Union presidency.

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, is proposing a co-ordinated crackdown on illegal immigration in government documents, seen by the Financial Times, which have been drawn up in preparation for France’s EU presidency, which starts in July.

The document – a so-called “pact on immigration” – also calls for swift implementation of biometric visas and compulsory language lessons for all new arrivals. It acknowledges that the EU needs migrants for demographic and economic reasons but it adds: “Europe does not have the means to welcome with dignity all those who see an Eldorado in it.”

It calls for EU member states to establish compulsory “integration contracts” for newcomers. They would have to learn the language of the country they were living in as well as “national and European values” such as gender equality and tolerance.

Mr Sarkozy’s proposals include a fresh drive to return unlawful entrants to their home countries. The unpublished pact emerged as Mr Sarkozy announced in Warsaw that France would lift labour market restrictions on central and eastern Europeans whose countries joined the EU in 2004.


Vast cracks appear in Arctic ice

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Dramatic evidence of the break-up of the Arctic ice-cap has emerged from research during an expedition by the Canadian military.

Scientists travelling with the troops found major new fractures during an assessment of the state of giant ice shelves in Canada’s far north.

The team found a network of cracks that stretched for more than 10 miles (16km) on Ward Hunt, the area’s largest shelf.

The fate of the vast ice blocks is seen as a key indicator of climate change.

One of the expedition’s scientists, Derek Mueller of Trent University, Ontario, told me: “I was astonished to see these new cracks.

“It means the ice shelf is disintegrating, the pieces are pinned together like a jigsaw but could float away,” Dr Mueller explained.

According to another scientist on the expedition, Dr Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa, the new cracks fit into a pattern of change in the Arctic.

“We’re seeing very dramatic changes; from the retreat of the glaciers, to the melting of the sea ice.


Methane Release Could Cause Abrupt, Far-Reaching Climate Change

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

An abrupt release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from ice sheets that extended to Earth’s low latitudes some 635 million years ago caused a dramatic shift in climate, scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) report in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

The shift triggered events that resulted in global warming and an ending of the last “snowball” ice age.

The researchers believe that the methane was released gradually at first and then very quickly from clathrates–methane ice that forms and stabilizes beneath ice sheets.

When the ice sheets became unstable, they collapsed, releasing pressure on the clathrates. The clathrates then began to de-gas.

“Our findings document an abrupt and catastrophic global warming that led from a very cold, seemingly stable climate state to a very warm, also stable, climate state–with no pause in between,” said geologist Martin Kennedy of the University of California at Riverside (UCR), who led the research team.


Australia’s Long Drought Withering Wheat, Rice Supplies

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Part two of a special series that explores the local faces of the world’s worst food crisis in decades.

Les Gordon is no stranger to Australia’s harsh climate. A rice grower from the country’s breadbasket region, some 512 miles (820 kilometers) southwest of Sydney, Gordon has spent almost half his three decades of farming battling drought.

But the most recent dry spell threatens to end his rice-growing days altogether.

“This is the first time we haven’t had any rice since my grandfather planted his first crop in 1949,” he said. “This is the worst drought in a long time.”

In Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, drought punctuates the climate record with disheartening regularity.

There’s not been a decade since official records began that hasn’t seen severe rain shortage. Down here drought is just a part of life.

But the onset of two record-breaking droughts in the past seven years—one of them widely considered “the worst drought in a thousand years”—has had far-reaching and crippling effects.

Major river systems are drying up. The Murray-Darling River Basin—home to 40 percent of Australia’s agricultural industry—is at record low levels.

The dearth of water has ravaged Australian agriculture, from wheat to dairy, meat to wine. Some industries will take years to recover.


U.S. Experts Bemoan Nation’s Loss of Stature in the World of Science

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

NEW YORK, May 28 — Some of the nation’s leading scientists, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice‘s top science adviser, today sharply criticized the diminished role of science in the United States and the shortage of federal funding for research, even as science becomes increasingly important to combating problems such as climate change and the global food shortage.

Speaking at a science summit that opens this week’s first World Science Festival, the expert panel of scientists, and audience members, agreed that the United States is losing stature because of a perceived high-level disdain for science. They cited U.S. officials and others questioning scientific evidence of climate change, the reluctance to federally fund stem cell research, and some U.S. officials casting doubt on evolution as examples that have damaged America’s international standing.

“I think there’s a loss of American power and prestige that came about as a result of our anti-science policies,” said David Baltimore, a biologist and Nobel laureate and board chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Raising questions about the science of evolution, he said, “leads to a certain disdain for American intelligence.” He added, “What we need is leadership that respects science.”