Archive for the ‘Biodiversity Loss’ Category

Climate Tipping Point Near Warn UN, World Bank

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC, February 23, 2009 (ENS) – The planet is quickly approaching the tipping point for abrupt climate changes, perhaps within a few years, according to the UN Environmental Programme’s newly released 2009 Year Book and a separate World Bank report now being presented throughout Latin America.The UN agency warns that urgent action is needed to avoid catastrophic climate events such as major food and water shortages, shifts in weather patterns, and destabilization of “major ice sheets that could introduce unanticipated rates of sea level rise within the 21st century.”

The report warns that climate changes are occurring much faster than anticipated by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, issued in 2007.

While earlier estimates forecast up to half a meter (19.5 inches) rise in sea level in the coming century, updated calculations suggest that the rise may be as high as two meters (78 inches).

Melting ice sheets and glaciers in the northern and southern hemispheres will not only contribute to sea level rise, but will also leave many regions around the world without basic water resources for human consumption and industrial production.

In its new report, the World Bank focuses on four climate impacts of special concern: “the warming and eventual disabling of mountain ecosystems in the Andes; the bleaching of coral reefs leading to an anticipated total collapse of the coral biome in the Caribbean basin; the damage to vast stretches of wetlands and associated coastal systems in the Gulf of Mexico; and the risk of forest dieback in the Amazon basin.”

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More Australian Weather Records Tumble

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

The Big Dry Down Under just got a whole lot drier. The first three months of 2009 in the already parched Murray Darling basin had the least amount of rainfall since Australian weather records began 117 years ago.

This massive drainage supports $9 billion in agriculture but has been hammered by what some are calling the worst drought in 1000 years. Authorities in Australia make no bones about the cause of this freaky weather.

“We’ve had big droughts before and big floods before, but what we didn’t have was climate change,” said Rob Freeman, the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Murray Darling is home to 2 million people who may not even have enough water to survive in the future. “I’d be loath to say that critical human needs will always be secure”, warned Freeman.

The recent rainfall record was not the only smashed. Water inputs for three-year period ending March 2009 were less than half of the previous record from the great drought of 1943-1946.

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What we need vs. what we’ll get

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

– The current G-20 meeting has stirred a lot of commentary and hope.   The world has a lot of problems and there’s always the possibility and the hope, when a significant number of world leaders come together to talk about those problems, that they’ll make decisions that will improve things.The Browns and the Obamas

– Below, is an analysis by George Friedman of STRATFOR of the G-20 meeting and what’s likly to come out of it along with a look at a follow-on NATO meeting and an Obama-EU summit.  There’s even discussion of President Obama’s upcoming visit to Turkey, which will be his last stop on his current international trip.

– Other commentators might go through these same subjects; G-20, NATO, EU and Turkey and come to somewhat different conclusions about their meanings and prospects but I seriously doubt that anyone could seriously avoid my final conclusion – that what the world needs is not what the world is going to get out of all these meetings and pontifications.

– In the near-term, we need unified global strategies to pull the world out of the current economic melt-down.

– And, following immediately on the heels of such economic repairs, we need a deep recognition that mankind’s current dominate economic system, Capitalism, even when working well,  cannot continue as it is currently configured.   Its fundamental requirements of continuing growth and consumption to fuel itself, are axiomatically inconsistent with the fact that we live on a planet with finite resources.

– And, once we’ve rethought our basic economic systems and globally began to reorient them into something that focuses on sustainability rather than growth, then we need to move onto how we, globally, are going to defuse all the ecological and climatic destruction we’ve set in motion which is threatening to reset our climate and to initiate another major ecological die-off like the one that took out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

– That’s all.  It’s not much to ask, right?   Surely,the best and the brightest of our national leaders can see that these are the paths forward?

– Well, I wish I thought so, but I don’t.  Friedman’s analysis makes clear that in spite of the fact that we need radical new thinking, these meetings will end up driven by narrow national interests as nation jockeys against nation to see who’s going to do the work and pay the bills.

There’s your future, folks.– It’s as if we’re all sitting in a lifeboat at sea and we’re having meeting after meeting about how to best arrange the seating in the boat to determine who has to row and who gets to just sit and benefit. And all the time, the boat is slowing but inexorably sinking but no one can be bothered to talk about that because… because?     Damned if I know.

– Here’s George Freidman’s analysis.   See what you think:

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Three major meetings will take place in Europe over the next nine days: a meeting of the G-20, a NATO summit and a meeting of the European Union with U.S. President Barack Obama. The week will define the relationship between the United States and Europe and reveal some intra-European relationships. If not a defining moment, the week will certainly be a critical moment in dealing with economic, political and military questions. To be more precise, the meeting will be about U.S.-German relations. Not only is Germany the engine of continental Europe, its policies diverge the most sharply from those of the United States. In some ways, U.S.-German relations have been the core of the U.S.-European relationship, so this marathon of summits will focus on the United States and Germany.

Although the meetings deal with a range of issues — the economy and Afghanistan chief among them — the core question on the table will be the relationship between Europe and the United States following the departure of George W. Bush and the arrival of Barack Obama. This is not a trivial question. The European Union and the United States together account for more than half of global gross domestic product. How the two interact and cooperate is thus a matter of global significance. Of particular importance will be the U.S. relationship with Germany, since the German economy drives the Continental dynamic. This will be the first significant opportunity to measure the state of that relationship along the entire range of issues requiring cooperation.

Relations under Bush between the United States and the two major European countries, Germany and France, were unpleasant to say the least. There was tremendous enthusiasm throughout most of Europe surrounding Obama’s election. Obama ran a campaign partly based on the assertion that one of Bush’s greatest mistakes was his failure to align the United States more closely with its European allies, and he said he would change the dynamic of that relationship.

There is no question that Obama and the major European powers want to have a closer relationship. But there is a serious question about expectations. From the European point of view, the problem with Bush was that he did not consult them enough and demanded too much from them. They are looking forward to a relationship with Obama that contains more consultation and fewer demands. But while Obama wants more consultation with the Europeans, this does not mean he will demand less. In fact, one of his campaign themes was that with greater consultation with Europe, the Europeans would be prepared to provide more assistance to the United States. Europe and Obama loved each other, but for very different reasons. The Europeans thought that the United States under Obama would ask less, while Obama thought the Europeans would give more.

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– research thanks to Michael M.

Study Ties Tree Deaths To Change in Climate

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

The death rates of trees in Western U.S. forests have doubled over the past two to three decades, according to a new study spearheaded by the U.S. Geological Survey, driven in large part by higher temperatures and water scarcity linked to climate change.

The findings, being published today in the online journal Science, examined changes in 76 long-term forest plots in three broad regions across the West, and found similar shifts regardless of the areas’ elevations, fire histories, dominant species and tree sizes. It is the largest research project ever done on old-growth forests in North America.

Nathan L. Stephenson, one of the lead authors, said summers are getting longer and hotter in the West, subjecting trees to greater stress from droughts and attacks by insect infestations, factors that contribute to tree die-offs.

“It’s very likely that mortality rates will continue to rise,” said Stephenson, a scientist at the Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center, adding that the death of older trees is rapidly exceeding the growth of new ones, akin to a town where the deaths of old people are outpacing the number of babies being born. “If you saw that going on in your home town, you’d be concerned.”

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Biofuels Boom Could Fuel Rainforest Destruction, Researcher Warns

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Farmers across the tropics might raze forests to plant biofuel crops, according to new research by Holly Gibbs, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

“If we run our cars on biofuels produced in the tropics, chances will be good that we are effectively burning rainforests in our gas tanks,” she warned.

Policies favoring biofuel crop production may inadvertently contribute to, not slow, the process of climate change, Gibbs said. Such an environmental disaster could be “just around the corner without more thoughtful energy policies that consider potential ripple effects on tropical forests,” she added.

Gibbs’ predictions are based on her new study, in which she analyzed detailed satellite images collected between 1980 and 2000. The study is the first to do such a detailed characterization of the pathways of agricultural expansion throughout the entire tropical region. Gibbs hopes that this new knowledge will contribute to making prudent decisions about future biofuel policies and subsidies.

Gibbs presented her findings in Chicago on Feb. 14, during a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The symposium was titled “Biofuels, Tropical Deforestation, and Climate Policy: Key Challenges and Opportunities.”

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‘Coral lab’ offers acidity insight

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are acidifying the oceans and threaten a mass extinction of sea life, a top ocean scientist warns.

Dr Carol Turley from Plymouth Marine Laboratory says it is impossible to know how marine life will cope, but she fears many species will not survive.

Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 emissions have already turned the sea about 30% more acidic, say researchers.

It is more acidic now than it has been for at least 500,000 years, they add.

The problem is set to worsen as emissions of the greenhouse gas increase through the 21st Century.

“I am very worried for ocean ecosystems which are currently productive and diverse,” Carol Turely told BBC News.

“I believe we may be heading for a mass extinction, as the rate of change in the oceans hasn’t been seen since the dinosaurs.

“It may have a major impact on food security. It really is imperative that we cut emissions of CO2.”

Dr Turley is chairing a session on ocean acidification at the Copenhagen Climate Change Congress.

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Climate scenarios ‘being realised’

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

The worst-case scenarios on climate change envisaged by the UN two years ago are already being realised, say scientists at an international meeting.

In a statement in Copenhagen on their six key messages to political leaders, they say there is a increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts.

Even modest temperature rises will affect millions of people, particularly in the developing world, they warn.

But, they say, most tools needed to cut carbon dioxide emissions already exist.

More than 2,500 researchers and economists attended this meeting designed to update the world on the state of climate research ahead of key political negotiations set for December this year.

New data was presented in Copenhagen on sea level rise, which indicated that the best estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made two years ago were woefully out of date.

Scientists heard that waters could rise by over a metre across the world with huge impacts for hundreds of millions of people.

There was also new information on how the Amazon rainforest would cope with rising temperatures. A UK Meteorological Office study concluded there would be a 75% loss of tree cover if the world warmed by three degrees for a century.

The scientists hope that their conclusions will remove any excuses from the political process.

Dr Katherine Richardson, who chaired the scientific steering committee that organised the conference, said the research presented added new certainty to the IPCC reports.

“We’ve seen lots more data, we can see where we are, no new surprises, we have a problem.”

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Ocean Acidification from CO2 Is Happening Faster Than Thought

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

A lesser-known consequence of having a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air is the acidification of water. Oceans naturally absorb the greenhouse gas; in fact, they take in roughly one third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities. When CO2 dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid, the same substance found in carbonated beverages. New research now suggests that seawater might be growing acidic more quickly than climate change models have predicted.

Marine ecologist J. Timothy Wootton of the University of Chicago and his colleagues spent eight years compiling measurements of acidity, salinity, temperature and other data from Tatoosh Island off the northwestern tip of Washington State. They found that the average acidity rose more than 10 times faster than predicted by climate simulations.

Highly acidic water can wreak havoc on marine life. For instance, it can dissolve the calcium carbonate in seashells and coral reefs [see “The Dangers of Ocean Acidification,” by Scott C. Doney; Scientific American, March 2006]. In their study, published in the December 2 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Wootton and his team discovered that the balance of ecosystems shifted: populations of large-shelled animals such as mussels and stalked barnacles dropped, whereas smaller-shelled species and noncalcareous algae (species that lack calcium-based skeletons) became more abundant. “I see it as a harbinger of the trends we might expect to occur in the future,” says oceanographer Scott C. Doney of the Woods Hole Ocean­ographic Institution, who did not participate in this study.

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Drought warning as the tropics expand

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, warned on Thursday that his state “is headed toward one of the worst water crises in its history”.

Now new research suggests that the three-year drought in the Golden State may be a consequence of the expanding tropics, which are gradually growing as human emissions of greenhouse gases warm the planet.

Climate scientists have documented a slow progression of low-latitude weather systems towards the poles, and this has been matched by rising temperatures in many temperate regions. Deciding whether this broadening of the tropical belt is linked to the greenhouse effect has been difficult, however.

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The fight to get aboard Lifeboat UK

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

– James Lovelock, again, tells it like it is.  What he says here is what I’ve felt for a long time without being able to articulate it nearly so well as he has.  Indeed, it is why I’ve secured the right of permanent residency in New Zealand; as a hedge against the future he’s painting.

– I see people drawing word pictures of the world around us at all levels.   The local and the mundane, the national and the global.   But most of their pictures are fragments at best; partial renderings of realities far more complex and dark than they’ve drawn or imagined.

– Lovelock paints the canvas behind all their canvases.   They are, perhaps, the projected moving pictures on the screen.  Whereas, his is the screen upon which theirs cavort.  In rings speak, ‘One vision to rule them all’.

– There are big changes, nearly unimaginably big changes, coming.   And most of us, if we are not in denial, are engaged in building sandcastles in a losing battle to stem the sea.   His analogies about 1939 are so apt.   And time is getting so late.

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Last week she played in the snow, but what will Britain be like when she grows up? James Lovelock, the Earth guru, foresees a land where blizzards are long forgotten and national survival depends on a new Winston Churchill

When someone discovers, too late, that they are suffering from a serious and probably incurable disease and may have no more than six months to live, their first response is shock and then, in denial, they angrily try any cure on offer or go to practitioners of alternative medicine. Finally, if wise, they reach a state of calm acceptance. They know death need not be feared and that no one escapes it.

Scientists who recognise the truth about the Earth’s condition advise their governments of its deadly seriousness in the manner of a physician. We are now seeing the responses. First was denial at all levels, then the desperate search for a cure. Just as we as individuals try alternative medicine, so our governments have many offers from alternative business and their lobbies of sustainable ways to “save the planet”, and from some green hospice there may come the anodyne of hope.

Should you doubt that this grim prospect is real, let me remind you of the forces now taking the Earth to the hothouse: these include the increasing abundance of greenhouse gases from industry and agriculture, including gases from natural ecosystems damaged by global heating in the Arctic and the tropics. The vast ocean ecosystems that used to pump down carbon dioxide can no longer do so because the ocean turns to desert as it warms and grows more acidic; then there is the extra absorption of the sun’s radiant heat as white reflecting snow melts and is replaced by dark ground or ocean.

Each separate increase adds heat and together they amplify the warming that we cause. The power of this combination and the inability of the Earth now to resist it is what forces me to see the efforts made to stabilise carbon dioxide and temperature as no better than planetary alternative medicine.

Do not be misled by lulls in climate change when global temperature is constant for a few years or even, as we have seen in the UK in the past week, appears to drop and people ask: where is global warming now?

However unlikely it sometimes seems, change really is happening and the Earth grows warmer year by year. But do not expect the climate to follow the smooth path of slowly but sedately rising temperatures predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where change slowly inches up and leaves plenty of time for business as usual. The real Earth changes by fits and starts, with spells of constancy, even slight decline, between the jumps to greater heat. It is ever more at risk of changing to a barren state in which few of us can survive.

The high-sounding and well-meaning visions of the European Union of “saving the planet” and developing sustainably by using only “natural” energy might have worked in 1800 when there were only a billion of us, but now they are a wholly impractical luxury we can ill afford.

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– research thanks, again, to Robin S.