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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 144201 times)
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« Reply #135 on: Nov 11, 2012, 08:55 AM »

11 November 2012 - 14H02 

Algeria to exploit controversial shale gas

AFP - Algeria, the world's fourth-largest gas exporter, has decided to develop its shale gas potential as well, but experts fear this could cause severe environmental problems.

Officials say the country's shale gas reserves are 600 trillion cubic feet (17 trillion cubic metres), or around four times greater than its current known gas reserves.

Algeria may be the world's eighth-largest natural gas producer in 2011, according to the BP Statistical Review of Energy, but domestic consumption is surging. Official forecasts say that, from 2019, local demand will eat up all the country's production.

At present, 50 years after it gained independence, the country remains almost totally dependant on hydrocarbons, which account for 90 percent of its exports.

So as long as it fails to diversify its export base, it has no alternative than to develop shale gas, an unconventional fossil fuel, to secure its energy future, experts say.

A new hydrocarbons bill, to be introduced in parliament in the coming weeks, encourages the exploration of unconventional gas and oil resources.

However, the effect on the environment of the production of shale gas is of great concern to ecologists.

Chems Eddine Chitour, director of fossil energy development at Algiers' Ecole Polytechnique, is concerned that the method used for obtaining the fuel trapped in formations of shale rock could be geologically dangerous and also put a strain on the largely desert country's water supplies.

Induced hydraulic "fracturing weakens the ground and the subsoil, making earthquakes more likely," he said.

"It mobilizes vast quantities of water and will permanently destroy the ecosystem of the Sahara. Injecting 15,000 cubic metres (530,000 cubic fee) per well, with a well every 100 metres (yards), is catastrophic for a country with such water scarcity."

Chitour, like many ecologists, also said the chemicals used in the injection risked polluting the water table.

But former Sonatrach CEO Abdelmadjid Attar countered that "conventional hydrocarbon exploitation carries the same environmental risks."

Algiers says safeguards will ensure environmental protection, but Chitour is not convinced.

"The absence of debate on the energy future of the country is a mistake," he said, adding that this would have adverse effects for generations.

There must be a "comprehensive strategy (to ensure) that shale gas will comprise only a very small amount of the energy supply."

The costs of shale gas exploitation are also high, Energy and Mines Minister Youcef Yousfi said, and "exporters and importers will have to share the risk".

And Yousfi's predecessor, Nordine Ait Laoussine, said "there is still much left to do on the conventional side, not only in unexplored areas but also in those already in production."

To develop its shale gas potential, Algeria's hydrocarbons company Sonatrach has signed agreements with the Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell, Italian Eni and Canadian Talisman.

In 2011, Sonatrach drilled its first shale gas wells in the Ahnet basin near Tamanrasset, about 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) south of Algiers.

On Thursday, Sonatrach announced a new gas discovery in the southeast, near Illizi, and will also begin offshore exploration in 2014.
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« Reply #136 on: Nov 11, 2012, 08:58 AM »

Marine ‘treasure trove’ could bring revolution in medicine and industry

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, November 10, 2012 12:47 EST

Scientists have pinpointed a new treasure trove in our oceans: micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new families of proteins.

These tiny marine wonders offer a chance to exploit a vast pool of material that could be used to create innovative medicines, industrial solvents, chemical treatments and other processes, scientists say. Researchers have already created new enzymes for treating sewage and chemicals for making soaps from material they have found in ocean organisms.

“The potential for marine biotechnology is almost infinite,” said Curtis Suttle, professor of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia. “It has become clear that most of the biological and genetic diversity on Earth is – by far – tied up in marine ecosystems, and in particular in their microbial components. By weight, more than 95% of all living organisms found in the oceans are microbial. This is an incredible resource.”

However, the discovery of the ocean’s biological riches, including hundreds of thousands of new sponges, bacteria and viruses, also raises worries about the damage that could ensue from the new science of marine biotechnology.

In particular, scientists worry that precious sources, including hydrothermal vents where bacteria and simple plants thrive in water above boiling point, could be damaged or destroyed in a free-for-all rush to exploit these wonders.

In addition, major worries focus on developing nations whose waters contain rich sources of marine life that could be targeted and exploited by western chemical companies. On land, patents can provide protection for products derived from local animals or plants. In the sea, where currents carry fish, sponges and microbes from place to place, such protection could be far trickier to enforce.

The issues are set to top the agenda at a biotechnology forum, The Evolving Promise of the Life Sciences, that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) genomics forum are holding in Paris on Monday.

“We have controls for regulating the exploitation of animals, plants and microbes on land, but regulating them at sea is going to be much more difficult,” said Professor Steve Yearley, head of the ESRC genomics forum and organiser of tomorrow’s meeting. “We cannot stop pirates off Somalia, so how is someone supposed to protect rare sponges that they find in their coastal waters?”

Sponges turn out to be a particularly promising marine resource. The sponge Tethya crypta, found in Belize and other parts of the Caribbean, has been found to contain chemicals that have anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. Similarly, the cancer drug Halaven was derived from sponges of the Halichondria family.

To date, only a handful of drugs derived from marine biotechnology sources have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. However, more than 1,000 new ones are undergoing pre-clinical tests. These include products derived from molluscs, snails, marine microbes and fish.

The science of marine biotechnology was kickstarted five years ago by the entrepreneur Craig Venter. One of the scientists involved in the sequencing of the human genome, Venter set off in his yacht in a round-the-world cruise intent on demonstrating the potential of the biological material that is found in sea water. In the end, he made two journeys, one from 2006-8 and the other from 2009-11. On both expeditions, scientists took 200-400 litre samples of sea water every 200 miles, put these through progressively smaller filters to capture the organisms in the samples, then froze the captured micro-organisms for shipment back to his laboratory. There scientists sequenced their DNA using techniques developed by Venter on sequencing the human genome.

The results were staggering. According to Venter, his team discovered around 20m new genes and thousands of new families of proteins in the samples they scooped up on their journeys through the world’s oceans. As yet, no one knows what these genes and proteins do, although most researchers believe many of them must have potential as sources of new drugs.

“We are struggling to develop the right techniques to isolate and understand the marvels we are finding in the waters around the planet,” said Yearley. “Once we have done that, then we will have a much better idea just what we are looking at and just how careful we need to be when it comes to ensuring this resource is protected for the future.”

Additional research by Gemma O’Neill

Reef damaged by coral bleaching via AFP

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« Reply #137 on: Nov 12, 2012, 08:45 AM »

Atmospheric CO2 risks increasing space junk: study

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 11, 2012 14:02 EST

PARIS — A build-up of carbon dioxide in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere risks causing a faster accumulation of man-made space junk and resulting in more collisions, scientists said on Sunday.

While it causes warming on Earth, CO2 conversely cools down the atmosphere and contracts its outermost layer, the thermosphere, where many satellites including the International Space Station (ISS) operate, said a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A contracted thermosphere, in turn, reduces atmospheric “drag” on satellites — a similar force to that experienced when holding one’s hand out the window of a moving car.

This “drag” is what causes satellite orbits to change, drawing them closer to Earth, which means that orbiters like the ISS have to boost themselves back on course with on-board engines.

“The observed CO2 increase is expected to gradually result in a cooler, more contracted upper atmosphere and a consequent reduction in the atmospheric drag experienced by satellites,” said a statement from the Naval Research Laboratory, which took part in the study.

Commenting on the paper, space expert Hugh Lewis said a cooler troposphere will extend the lifetime of space junk — staying farther out for longer instead of burning up in the lower layers of the atmosphere, closer to Earth.

“Consequently, space junk will accumulate at a faster rate and we will see more collisions between space objects as a result,” he told AFP.

“We will also see many more ‘near-misses’ and these have an important effect on spacecraft operators.”

Lewis said there would be no increased risk for us on Earth as the rate at which satellites re-enter would be reduced.

“However, we would see some effects on services provided from space if an important satellite was destroyed by a collision…,” he said.

On the positive side, satellites would no longer need to boost themselves back into orbit quite as often, meaning they can carry less fuel.

[Earth via Shutterstock]

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« Reply #138 on: Nov 13, 2012, 10:57 AM »

Arctic sea ice 'hits record low'

Findings are widely seen by scientists as latest dramatic sign of the long-term impact of global warming.

Al Jazeera's Nick Clark joined an expedition travelling deep into the Arctic Circle to Qaanaaq, in Greenland

The world's Arctic ice cap has shrunk to a new low, surpassing a record set only five years ago, and is expected to keep retreating for a few more weeks, according to US data research.

Arctic sea ice fell to 4.10 million sq km, about 70,000sq km less than the earlier record charted in 2007, the lowest since satellites began measuring the ice in 1979, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

"It's a little surprising to see the 2012 Arctic sea ice extent in August dip below the record low 2007 sea ice extent in September," Walt Meier, a scientist with the data centre, said.

"It's likely we are going to surpass the record decline by a fair amount this year by the time all is said and done," he said.

The ice is expected to dwindle until mid- to late-September when the summer melting usually ends, according to the centre.

Shrinking of the Arctic ices alarms scientists and environmentalists because the Arctic acts as the world's air conditioner, helping to moderate the globe's climate.

As parts of the Arctic melted, this year has been marked by record heat in much of the Northern Hemisphere, especially across the continental US which has been ravaged by drought.

Most scientists blame global warming for the retreat of the Arctic ice, and there is concern that the growing amounts of open water means the Arctic will not be as effective moderating the planet's climate.

"These preliminary figures provide irrefutable evidence that greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming are damaging one of the planet's critical environments, one that helps maintain the stability of the global climate for every citizen of the world," Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace, said.

Meier said that the record was on one level "just a number, and occasionally records are going to get set".

"But in the context of what's happened in the last several years and throughout the satellite record, it's an indication that the Arctic sea ice cover is fundamentally changing," he said.

The planet has charted a number of record temperatures in recent years, with 13 of the warmest years ever taking place in the past decade and a half.

Scientists say that climate change is largely caused by human emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases, which hinder the planet's reflection of the sun's heat back into space.

The melting of Arctic has helped open up new shipping lanes, but is also believed to hold serious consequences for the rest of the planet considering the vital function served by the ice ion in keeping the planet cool.

Al Jazeera's Nick Clark reports on the effect of global warming on the Arctic:

Click to watch:


Arctic way of living 'under threat'

Traditional existence of remote Inuit communities faces growing danger as sea ice retreats due to global warming.

Deep in the Arctic, remote Inuit communities are facing up to a future of change.

As the sea ice retreats due to global warming, their traditional existence is coming under threat.

click to watch:


Greenland: Economics and arctic exploration

Can the most sparsely inhabited place on earth begin to exploit the untold riches beneath its water and ice?

It is a country you almost never hear about, but there are untold riches beneath all of Greenland's ice and water. On this week's Counting the Cost, we talk economics and arctic exploration with Kuupik Kleist, the prime minister of Greenland.

Its location, dependency and, most of all, its potential make Greenland a fascinating place. It is the most sparsely inhabited place in the world - with just 57,000 people in an area more than eight times the size of the UK, which has a population of more than 60 million people.

The economy of this autonomous country within the kingdom of Denmark is dependent upon two things: the export of fish and the help of the Danish government.

But, the question we are asking is: Can Greenland start to break free of that dependency and exploit its considerable mineral riches?

Click to watch:

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« Reply #139 on: Nov 14, 2012, 07:34 AM »

14 November 2012 - 06H59 

Australia's devils to get fresh start on new island

AFP - A group of Tasmanian devils will be transferred to a small Australian island to start what is hoped will be a self-sustaining population, free from the facial tumour that has devastated their species.

Tasmania's Environment Minister Brian Wightman said 14 of the marsupials, carefully selected from captive breeding programmes across Australia, would be released Thursday on Maria Island, a nature sanctuary off the state's east coast.

He said it was a "major step forward" in the race against extinction of the devil due to an extremely contagious facial tumour that has decimated the once-rampant rat-like marsupial.

Their plight is so dire authorities have started breeding a so-called "insurance population" in captivity to ensure they do not die out.

"The Maria Island translocation is designed to establish a self-sustaining population of healthy wild devils in a safe haven where they are protected from interaction with the deadly facial tumour disease," Wightman said.

"It will strengthen the insurance population of disease-free Tasmanian devils, help preserve wild traits in the insurance population and provide genetic stock for future reintroductions."

Tasmania is the only place where the devil is found in the wild and since the facial tumour was first discovered in 1996 numbers have plunged by 91 percent to the low tens of thousands.

There are few disease-free pockets remaining on the island state.

The cancer, which typically causes death within three to six months, is spread during fighting over food and territory, when a healthy devil will bite an infected devil's face and pick up cancer cells.

Maria Island, a rugged national park that can only be reached by boat or plane and is vehicle and shop-free, has never before been a devil habitat so Wightman said there was "no known risk of the facial tumour disease".

National Environment Minister Tony Burke said the transfer was a method of "last resort and it has to be done carefully with good scientific oversight", with all animals to be carefully screened before release.

Experts had deemed the devils unlikely to impact other native species on the island and the ecosystem would be monitored carefully, he added.

If successful authorities plan to increase the overall population on Maria Island over the next two years to about 50 animals.

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« Reply #140 on: Nov 14, 2012, 07:39 AM »

11/13/2012 06:29 PM

Quagmire in the Sahara: Desertec's Promise of Solar Power for Europe Fades

By Joel Stonington

As recently as three years ago, many thought that it was only a matter of time before solar thermal plants in North Africa supplied a significant portion of Europe's energy needs. But Desertec has hit a road block. Industrial backers are jumping ship, political will is tepid and a key pilot project has suddenly stalled.

Supporters hailed the Desertec Industrial Initiative as the most ambitious solar energy project ever when it was founded in 2009. Major industrial backers pledged active involvement, politicians saw a win-win proposition and environmentalists fawned over Europe's green energy future. For a projected budget of €400 billion ($560 billion), the venture was to pipe clean solar power from the Sahara Desert through a Mediterranean super-grid to energy-hungry European countries.

Today, a scant three years later, there is still little to show for the project but the ambition.

The list of recent setbacks is daunting. The project has failed to break ground on a single power plant. Spain recently balked at signing a declaration of intent to connect high-voltage lines between Morocco and the rest of Europe. In recent weeks, two of the biggest industrial supporters at the founding of the initiative, Siemens and Bosch, backed out. And perhaps most tellingly, though last week's third annual Desertec conference was held in Berlin's Foreign Ministry, not a single German cabinet minister bothered to attend.

"Much to his regret, Minister Rösler could not participate in the third Dii Desert Energy Conference due to conflicting schedules," the German Economy Ministry said in a statement explaining Philipp Rösler's absence. "Notwithstanding, the federal government, in principle, is willing to support a Desertec pilot project in Morocco. However, there are several open questions. Therefore, Minister Rösler has advised against too much euphoria."

Political backing for energy from the desert, in other words, is evaporating.

The hurdles facing the project, to be sure, have always been high and have become more challenging in recent years. For one, political strains in North Africa have multiplied as the Arab Spring destabilized the political landscape in the region and, in some cases, reignited the historical distrust that exists among neighboring countries. Furthermore, energy needs in the Middle East and North Africa are growing even as a lack of experience and a challenging regulatory environment produce new challenges.

'Where Is the Tax Money?'

Finally, energy policy and security policy tend to go hand in hand. For all the initial enthusiasm, countries have been hesitant about plunging into a large, cooperative grid in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The result is a paucity of public investment funds.

"It's a shame," said Dr. Wolfgang Knothe, a co-founder of the Desertec Foundation, a non-profit organization which is a significant motor pushing the Desertec idea forward. "We should say we're closing the whole thing down because we have no political support."

Hans-Josef Fell, a parliamentarian with the Green Party who attended the Dii conference last week, was frustrated as well. "The ministers are not here. They feared the question: 'Where is the tax money?'"

The reasons for the political hesitance are clear. Renewable energy projects remain more expensive than traditional fossil fuel plants and tend to require government subsidies. And Desertec is an order of magnitude larger and more complicated than the offshore wind parks currently under construction in the North Sea. The idea is to generate a significant percentage of Europe's energy needs using solar thermal plants in sunny North Africa and then transmitting that power via an ultramodern grid across the Mediterranean. With Germany having turned away from nuclear fuel in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in early 2011 and Europe's ongoing pursuit of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the need to import renewable energy from the places where it is most abundant is more acute than ever.

Partly because the idea behind Desertec sounds so promising, politicians have not been shy about praising it in public. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a note to Desertec that commended the initiative for "helping to forge a broad alliance across business, science and politics to enable big ideas to become reality." European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, one of the few high-level European politicians present, stated his support for the project at last week's conference. But the statements of support are a far cry from the financial support needed to build a grid that truly connects Europe and beyond.


"Everybody is staring at each other and nobody moves," said Sven Teske, director of renewable energy at Greenpeace. "In this deadly, sometimes embarrassing silence, everybody is praising the project. And then silence again."

Part of the problem is historical distrust. No country wants to import electricity and energy security is often at the top of national objectives. Further, the costs of supporting energy production and transmission were noted by German members of parliament at the Desertec conference.

"The rarest resource in Europe is money," said Michael Kauch, a German parliamentarian who is the environmental spokesman of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party. "It's even rarer than energy or rare earth minerals."

The ministers that did not attend the conference were only slightly more circumspect. The German Environment Ministry did not respond to a call for comment. The Foreign Ministry expressed support for "all endeavours to deepen the cooperation between Europe and North Africa on renewable energies."

The political strain showed through last week after plans to ink a deal on three Moroccan solar power plants -- part of a Desertec pilot project -- fell through when Spain unexpectedly did not show up at the signing. Anticipation had built after €600 million worth of Moroccan solar power projects were announced late last month. The deal was expected to be signed at the Dii conference last week and officials were on hand from Malta, Luxembourg, Morocco, Italy, and France. But without Spain, the project is on hold.

"The topic was already in the news," said Klaus Schmidtke, a Dii spokesman who maintained that the declaration of intent was expected to move forward in the next few weeks. "There were a lot of expectations."

Looking for a Connection

Spain's last-minute jitters point to another major quandary facing the project. Though energy is in demand in North Africa and the Middle East, the money is often not there to support major renewable energy projects. One of the only ways for countries in the region to build them is through guaranteed exports. To build plants in countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, up to 90 percent of the energy generated would have to be exported in order to cover the initial capital investment.

Exporting the green power involves connecting the countries with the sun to consumer countries like Germany by way of long-distance high-voltage power lines. That is expensive, and any country that is to be part of the proposed new grid, like Spain, can throw a wrench in the works. Yet without the grid, significant investment will remain sparse.

"For really good project development you need a regional framework so that you can rely on localities," Teske said. "The business model relies on selling the electricity to a country that is not even connected by a cable right now."

And with significant backers jumping ship, it is not clear when they ever will be. When Desertec launched in 2009, it had a long list of corporate shareholders and partners. Today the list of shareholders includes Deutsche Bank, reinsurance company Munich RE, UniCredit, and utilities E.ON and RWE.

But two major backers have recently withdrawn support: industrial giant Siemens and Bosch, the world's largest auto parts supplier. Siemens cited cost-cutting measures and its withdrawal was consistent with its recent retreat on all things solar. Still, the company was a founding member.

"We regret that Siemens and Bosch will quit the Desertec Initiative at the end of the year," said Schmidtke, who mentioned that Dii is in talks with other companies about joining though he declined to elaborate. "It is not an issue for the success of our work. We have a lot of companies in our network. So we will continue our work and there is a lot to do."

Ambition, in other words, remains plentiful. But action? "The next steps are coming," Dii's spokesman Schmidtke insists. "The concrete projects are continuing on. The political negotiations are ongoing. The situation is quite normal."

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« Reply #141 on: Nov 14, 2012, 08:33 AM »

Energy group: Global carbon dioxide emissions hit new record

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 14:20 EST

Global carbon dioxide emissions hit a new record last year at 34 billion tonnes, with China still topping the list of greenhouse gas producers, a German-based private institute said Tuesday.

The Renewable Energy Industry Institute (IWR) said that the total amounted to 800 million tonnes more than in 2010, with China accounting for 8.9 billion tonnes — far more than the US tally of 6.0 billion tonnes.

The study found that after a brief dip in 2009 due to the global economic crisis, the upward trajectory had resumed.

“If the current trend continues then global CO2 emissions will rise another 20 percent by the year 2020 to reach 40 billion tonnes of CO2,” IWR director Norbert Allnoch said in a statement.

In 1990, the figure was 22.7 billion tonnes.

After China and the United States, India came in third with 1.8 billion tonnes followed by Russia with 1.7 billion, Japan with 1.3 billion and Germany with 804 million.

Among the top 10 countries, only the United States, Russia and Germany reduced emissions in 2011 compared to the previous year.

It said the figures were based on global consumption of fossil fuels made available by British energy giant BP.

The report comes ahead of annual negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which this year take place in Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 7.

The big issue is renewing commitments under the Kyoto Protocol after the first round of cuts in CO2 emissions expires on December 31, although agreement on a new globally binding deal is not expected until 2015 and will not come into force until 2020.

Emissions from E.On's coal-fired power plant at Scholven in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany. (AFP)

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« Reply #142 on: Nov 15, 2012, 08:07 AM »

Obama vows action on climate change for ‘future generations’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 18:41 EST

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed a new push for action on climate change, saying the United States had a duty to come together to curb emissions in the wake of megastorm Sandy.

In his first news conference since his decisive re-election on November 6, Obama said he planned a “conversation across the country” in the coming months to find common ground after a failed effort on climate change at the start of his term.

“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it,” Obama said.

Obama acknowledged that his stance on climate change would require an “education process” and “tough political choices” but insisted that his push was compatible with efforts to bring more jobs to the still-wobbly US economy.

If “we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support,” Obama said.

“You can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward,” he said.

After Obama’s first election, much of the rival Republican Party adamantly opposed proposals on climate change, saying they would hurt the economy.

Some lawmakers took issue with the view of most scientists that industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are causing the planet to warm.

Climate change played little role in the election campaign until days before the vote, when massive storm Sandy tore through the East Coast and the Caribbean, killing more than 110 people in the United States alone.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, made a last-minute endorsement of Obama due to his stance on climate change. Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney, had earlier mocked Obama for trying to “heal the planet.”

Obama declined to attribute Sandy to climate change, but noted that average temperatures were rising and Arctic ice was melting at rates that are even faster than predicted in recent years.

“There have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe,” Obama said.

Obama’s top allies in Congress have backed calls on climate change.

Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, on Wednesday welcomed statements by Obama and called climate “a priority for me.”

With Democrats in control in 2009, the House approved the first nationwide “cap-and-trade” plan that, similar to a system in place in Europe and recently launched in California, would restrict carbon emissions and offer a market incentive for cuts.

But the plan died in the Senate, even with Democrats in charge.

Obama, who also vowed to fight climate change in his Election Day victory rally in Chicago, has not made clear his future initiatives.

After the defeat of cap-and-trade, the Obama administration used regulatory power to tighten standards for power plants and vehicles, leading the White House to insist that the United States is on track to meet its pledges to a UN body to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

One proposal that has gained traction in think tank circles is to set an outright tax on carbon, which could also assist the United States find a solution in a politically charged dispute over its debt.

Mark Muro and Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution recently proposed a $20-per-ton tax on carbon emissions — slightly less than a tax recently adopted in Australia — that would raise an estimated $150 billion annually over 10 years.

Of the revenue, the government would invest $30 billion each year to green energy and development, with the rest going to tax cuts, deficit reduction and rebates to low-income people most affected by potentially higher energy bills.

While conventional wisdom has long held that new taxes would be political suicide in Washington, the conservative American Enterprise Institute held an event Tuesday on the idea and called for more discussion, with one speaker arguing that a carbon tax could reduce corporate taxes elsewhere.
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« Reply #143 on: Nov 17, 2012, 08:38 AM »

Astronomers find most distant, oldest galaxy ever seen

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 16, 2012 11:00 EST

Astronomers using a complex system of super telescopes have caught a glimpse of what is likely the most distant, and thus oldest, galaxy ever seen — some 13.3 billion light years from Earth.

The star cluster was observed in its infancy — as it looked when the Universe was just three percent of its present age, NASA and the European Space Agency announced.

“We see the newly discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, as it was 420 million years after the Big Bang” that created the Universe 13.7 billion years ago, a statement said.

“Its light has travelled 13.3 billion years to reach Earth.”

The astronomers, grouped under the joint American-European CLASH project, use the orbiting Hubble and Spitzer telescopes as well as employing massive galaxy clusters as cosmic magnifiers to find distant galaxies.

The process, known as gravitational lensing, allows astronomers to see galaxies that emit light with a brightness weaker than that of a candle on the Moon, thus undetectable directly by telescopes on Earth.

The newly discovered cluster is so small, less than 600 light years across, that scientists believe it may still be in the first stages of galaxy formation.

Our own Milky Way is 150,000 light years across.

“The estimated mass of this baby galaxy is roughly equal to 100 million or a billion suns, or 0.1 to 1.0 percent of our Milky Way’s stars,” the statement said.

In September, the CLASH scientists said they had spotted the Universe’s oldest and furthest galaxy, using the same technique — the previous record-holding 13.2 billion light years away.

With gravitational lensing, theorised by Albert Einstein himself, astronomers use younger galaxies that lie closer to Earth to magnify older ones lurking in the distance by bending the light they emit.

“This latest discovery has outstripped even my expectations of what would be possible with the CLASH programme,” said Rychard Bouwens of the Netherlands’ Leiden University, co-author of the study to be published in the Astrophysical Journal in December.

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« Reply #144 on: Nov 17, 2012, 08:48 AM »

November 16, 2012 01:00 PM

Evil! Google Is Stacking Search Results In Favor Of Fracking

By Susie Madrak

Hey Google, don't be evil! This is exactly the kind of thing we were afraid would happen without strict net neutrality rules -- and lo and behold, here it is: The search engine is helping the gas lobby support fracking by stacking search results with pro-fracking ads that look like search results. And as this Truthout article says, it's having a negative effect on how peer-reviewed fracking research is perceived by the public:

    For more than 17 months, Robert Howarth, an ecology professor at Cornell, has had a Google problem. Howarth is the chief author of an important paper on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of obtaining natural gas. The paper concludes that the practice is not a clean way to extract domestic energy, as many allege, and has an even greater carbon footprint than coal. The paper's conclusions poke holes in some of the most common talking points used by supporters of fracking and made major headlines, including a large and prominently placed article in The New York Times in April 2011. Howarth, along with one of his co-authors, Anthony Ingraffea, and activist actor Mark Ruffalo, were ranked by Time as among the 100 "people who matter" in 2011.

    The paper also got the attention of the gas lobby. Most notably, America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). Soon after the paper was released, Howarth and others noticed a disturbing phenomenon on Google. Every time Professor Howarth's name was placed into a Google search engine, the first thing that appeared was an ad from ANGA, devoted strictly to hampering the credibility of Howarth's research. The page was listed as an ad but at a quick glance, it simply looked like the top search result. As of the time of this writing, late October, the ad still displayed that way.

    The ad, and the ability of industry to use Google ads for these purposes, raises important questions about the role that Google and other prominent search engines will have on important political and scientific discourse. Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries? This method naturally empowers wealthy industries to dominate Google search results given their massive resources and vested financial interests in the way in which science is discussed in the public sphere. And the company does ultimately answer to shareholders and not to the public at large. Given this reality, what can we expect from Google and other corporate giants of the Internet world when it comes to providing valuable information that serves the public?

    The content of the ad includes attacks that Howarth is "not credentialed to do the kind of chemical analysis required for this field of study," his research is "not well documented" and his conclusions "extreme." They also argue that the vast majority of scientists are skeptical of Howarth's conclusions.

    In an interview with Truthout, Howarth meticulously refuted the statements in the ad, saying they are "very misleading" and argues that, contrary to what is portrayed in the ad, "many more scientists agree with and support our research than disagree with it." Howarth claims the ad has been alarmingly effective at shaping the debate on the issue and disrupting his career.

    "The ad is incredibly unethical. It is a deliberate attempt to distort and suppress information and to intimidate me and also any other scientist who has research results that the gas industry may not like," he said. "Whenever anyone Googles my name to find out more about me and our research, they get the ad. This means that anyone who might want to apply to get a Ph.D. with me at Cornell will see this highly biased, distorted set of information. Applications to my lab are way down."

    Many younger scientists, Howarth said, have expressed trepidation at researching the fracking issue for fear of a rebuttal from the industry. "That is incredibly damaging in the long run."

    He also has noticed an impact on media coverage of the issue. "Any reporter who wants to interview me will see the ANGA ad. As a result, their questions tend to focus on having me respond to the criticisms, rather than objectively present our research," he said. "It turns our research into a 'he said-he said' framework, where everything is controversial and questioned … even basic facts become controversial because of the ad. Our research is diminished, the public is misled."

    It is easy to find evidence of the media being influenced by the ad. Under the aforementioned ANGA ad, Google search listings under Howarth's name, using the term "fracking," are largely dominated by articles amplifying its content. A Forbes article that repeats many of the ad's claims and mockingly claims that The New York Times turned Howarth into an "anti-fracking rockstar," is a typical example.

    Mr. Ingraffea, a co-author of the piece (but whose name does not get the same treatment on Google), says the ads serve to "diminish the peer-review process" and thus weaken the public's understanding of the science behind fracking. "We try to talk to Google about this. The company has a lot of valuable products. We would like to know if they understand the implications of these ads," he said.

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« Reply #145 on: Nov 19, 2012, 07:45 AM »

19 November 2012 - 09H42 

Massive deforestation risks turning Somalia into desert

AFP - Hassan Hussein cuts down 40 trees every month to fuel his charcoal business, fully aware of the impact his action has on the environment.

But for the livestock keeper, the forests are the last remaining resource. And he is not alone.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalia's traditional pastoralist herders do the same, putting their impoverished country on a path of heavy deforestation that risks turning large swathes of their country into a desert.

"I used to keep animals, but I lost my herd to famine and disease and am the eldest in the family," says Hussein, 27, adding that he has 10 mouths to feed back home -- two children, seven brothers and his mother.

Four years ago, Hussein had 25 camels and 300 goats. Now, only three camels and 15 goats from his once respectable sized herd are left.

Thus every morning, with an axe slumped over his shoulder, he sets off in search of wood for charcoal.

Once he locates and cuts down a tree, it takes two days of burning, and two more days of cooling the smouldering heaps before he can sell the charcoal, at six dollars (five euros) for a 20 kilogramme sack.

The village of Jaleo, in the northern self-declared state of Somaliland, once prided itself on being at the heart of the savannah.

British explorer Harald Swayne recounted, in his 19th century memoirs, the adventures he had while tracking and hunting "a large herd of elephants."

But the last elephant was killed in 1958, and were Swayne to retake his journey today, he would only find the smallest of game in a rocky landscape dotted with shrubs and charred tree stumps.

"Twenty percent of the forest has disappeared in the last ten years -- definitely this country is turning into a desert," Ahmed Derie Elmi, director of forests in Somaliland's environment ministry, recently tells AFP.

"If the deforestation continues at this pace, this country will be a desert in two or three decades," echoes Ahmed Ibrahim Awale of the Candlelight organisation, which tackles environmental and health issues in Somaliland.

Charcoal burning has not always been preferred in Jalelo.

Three years ago an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in the Horn of Africa forced Gulf states to suspend importation of animals or animal products from the region, forcing the herders to look for alternative sources of income.

But it is urbanisation and a population explosion that are the biggest threats to the country's environmental well-being.

Somaliland's capital Hargeisa has a population of 850,000 people, six times its population in the 1970s, which consumes approximately 250 tonnes of charcoal daily.

Elmi says that charcoal is the main source of energy, as electricity is rare and expensive for many.

The rampant deforestation is not unique to Somaliland. In southern Somalia, Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents turned charcoal burning and exportation into one of their major sources of income.

In a report, the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea says the Islamist group made up to 25 million dollars every year from charcoal trade.

Several regions of southern Somalia were declared famine zones by the United Nations last year, with the deforestation contributing to an extreme drought.

In a bid to put an end to rampant deforestation, Somalia's newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in one of his first official duties banned all exportation of charcoal, in line with a UN embargo in February.

However, much more than a UN declaration and a presidential decree are needed to bring the deforestation to an end.

"The underlying causes of poverty and the general decline of the size of livestock herds have to be addressed," says Awale.

Alternative sources of energy must be harnessed to cater for the population, massive reforestation campaigns need to be initiated and some of the pastoralists need to switch to agriculture.

In a country where the government faces numerous challenges, environmental matters are not a priority.

"The Ministry of Environment has the smallest budgetary allocation that only covers the salaries of 187 employees," says Elmi.

"All the mature trees have disappeared.... In the past one could get six or seven 25 kilogramme sacks of charcoal from a tree. Today, maybe one or two," Awale says.

As a consequence, charcoal prices in Somaliland have doubled in the past four years, to 10 dollars a sack.

"Each time I cut down a tree, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth," Hussein says. "The future is bleak.... All the trees will have disappeared."
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« Reply #146 on: Nov 19, 2012, 07:47 AM »

World Bank warns global temp. could rise devastating 4 degrees this century

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 18, 2012 21:38 EST

The World Bank warned Sunday that global temperatures could rise by four degrees this century without immediate action, with potentially devastating consequences for coastal cities and the poor.

Issuing a call for action, the World Bank tied the future wealth of the planet — and especially developing regions — to immediate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as energy production.

“The time is very, very short. The world has to tackle the problem of climate change more aggressively,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said on a conference call as he launched a report conducted for the global lender.

“We will never end poverty if we don’t tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today.”

The study said the planet could warm 4.0 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels as early as the 2060s if governments’ promises to fight climate change are not met.

Even if nations fulfill current pledges, the study gave a 20 percent likelihood of a four-degree rise by 2100 and said that a three-degree rise appeared likely. UN-led climate negotiations have vowed to limit the rise of temperatures to no more than two degrees.

“A four-degree warmer world can and must be avoided. We need to hold warming below two degrees,” Kim said. “Lack of ambitious action on climate change threatens to put prosperity out of reach of millions and roll back decades of development.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the study showed the need to hold nations to their commitment, made last year in Durban, South Africa, to put in place a legally binding new climate agreement by 2015.

The more than 190 nations in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change start their latest annual talks on November 26 in Qatar.

Global temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius. The planet has charted a slew of record-breaking temperatures over the past decade and experienced frequent disasters some experts blame on climate change, most recently superstorm Sandy, which ravaged Haiti and the US East Coast.

The report said that, if temperatures rise by four degrees, regions will feel different effects — recent heatwaves in Russia could become an annual norm and July in the Mediterranean could be nine degrees higher than the area’s warmest level now.

Under that scenario, the acidity of the oceans could rise at a rate unprecedented in world history, threatening coral reefs that protect shorelines and provide a habitat for fish species.

Rising sea levels could inundate coastal areas with the most vulnerable cities found in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, the Philippines, Venezuela and Vietnam, the study said.

“Many small islands may not be able to sustain the communities at all. There would be irreversible loss of biodiversity,” Kim said.

The study found that the most alarming impact may be on food production, with the world already expected to struggle to meet demand for a growing and increasingly wealthy population that is eating more meat.

Low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Vietnam and parts of Africa’s coast could see major blows to food production, with drought severely hindering agriculture elsewhere, the study said.

Flooding can also contaminate drinking water, increasing illnesses such as diarrhea.

The dire warnings were designed to encourage bolder action, but the report did not focus on potential steps.

Identifying one area, Kim called for less reliance on coal, which is the dirtiest major form of energy but is politically sensitive in the United States and China due to industry jobs.

Kim said that the World Bank was determined to support renewable energy in its lending, saying: “We do everything we can not to invest in coal — everything we possibly can.”

The fight against climate change has faced political obstacles in a number of nations including the United States, where many conservative lawmakers have called action too costly and cast doubt on the science.

Kim, a physician and former president of Dartmouth College who was tapped for the World Bank by US President Barack Obama, said that 97 percent of scientists agreed that human activity was causing climate change.

“As someone who has lived in the world of science for a long time, 97 percent is unheard-of consensus,” he said.

The report was carried out by German-based Climate Analytics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The World Bank said it did not consider the study a substitute for next UN-backed scientific assessment on climate change expected in 2014.

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« Reply #147 on: Nov 20, 2012, 08:01 AM »

11/19/2012 03:17 PM

'Politicians Haven't Listened': Merkel Climate Advisor Blasts Global Inaction

Politicians need to get their act together on climate change, says Chancellor Angela Merkel's leading climate advisor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber just days before the global warming conference in Qatar. The World Bank agrees, releasing a report on Monday highlighting the serious consequences that await should global temperatures continue rising unchecked.

The global political community's weak action on combating climate change has left the world in serious danger before the century's end, climate scientists warn. According to a new report from the World Bank, climatologists almost unanimously agree that the earth's temperature will increase by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, leading to massive food shortages and drought.

As representatives from almost 200 countries prepare to meet next week in Doha, Qatar to reach agreement on measures to slow global warming, climate scientists are sounding the alarm for more aggressive action. Climate change must become a priority they say.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a leading German climate scientist and the government's chief advisor on climate-related issues, warns that the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius by 2100 will only be possible with a massive rethinking of priorities. "We're currently on a course to see a 3.5 to 4 degree (6.3 to 7.2 degree Fahrenheit) change by the end of the century," Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), told SPIEGEL. "We've stressed time and again, that we need nothing less than a new industrial revolution, but many politicians haven't listened. They've just sat back."

Schellnhuber says that the European Union could easily achieve a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 relative to 1990, instead of the 20 percent it has committed to. Schellnhuber asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a "coalition of the willing." But unfortunately, he said, climate change is "not the highest priority" for Germany's leader.

'Turn Down the Heat'

Schellnhuber's comments in SPIEGEL came as a report he compiled with the World Bank, entitled "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided," was released on Monday. Timed to coincide with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Qatar, the study focuses on the consequences of a global four-degree temperature increase by the end of the century. The report notes that food shortages, massive water scarcity, rising sea levels, cyclones, drought and an irreversible decrease in biodiversity would result.

The report notes that climate change of such a scale would mean temperature increases of 6 degrees Celsius or more in average monthly summer temperatures in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and parts of the United States. Sea level rise in the tropics, the report says, will likely be 15 to 20 percent greater than the global average. Repercussions from those and other changes will have a disproportionate affect on poor countries.

Despite such dangers, however, the report notes that concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise and is higher now than at any time in the last 15 million years. While CO2 concentration stood at a pre-industrial level of 278 parts per million, it is now at 391 parts per million and is increasing at a rate of 1.8 parts per million each year.

"A 4 degree warmer world can, and must be, avoided - we need to hold warming below 2 degrees," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the first scientist to lead the organization, said in a World Bank press release accompanying the report. "Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest."

"It is my hope that this report shocks us into action," Kim writes in the report's foreword.
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« Reply #148 on: Nov 21, 2012, 08:25 AM »

Greenhouse gases rose to record levels in 2011: UN

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:55 EST

The volume of greenhouse gases causing global warming rose to a new high last year, the UN World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday, warning it is becoming increasingly unlikely the world can limit rising temperatures to UN-backed targets.

Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the single most important man-made contributor to climate change — rose to 390.9 parts per million in 2011, which is 2.0 ppm higher than in 2010, the WMO said.

Pointing out that the worst warming gases — CO2, methane and nitrous oxide — had all reached new highs last year, the agency’s Secetary-General Michel Jarraud said “it is getting increasingly unlikely” that a UN-backed pledge to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could be achieved.

“Even if we were able to stop them tomorrow, these greenhouse gases will continue to have an effect for centuries,” Jarraud said at the launch of the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin report in Geneva.

CO2 levels are at 140 percent of the pre-industrial level before 1750, Jarraud said. According to the WMO, about 375 billion tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere as CO2 in the past 260 years.

“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” Jarraud said in a statement.

“Future emissions will only compound the situation,” he said.

Taking the long view on data to smooth out year-on-year anomalies, the WMO showed that while carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased on average 1.5 ppm during the 1990s, the average annual hike from 2000 to 2010 stood at 2.0 ppm.

“So it’s not just increasing, it’s increasing exponentially,” WMO scientific officer Oksana Tarasova told reporters.

Jarraud, meanwhile, pointed out that so-called “carbon sinks”, including oceans, have until now absorbed nearly half of the CO2 emitted by humans, but stressed that “this will not necessarily continue in the future.”

Five major gases account for 96 percent of the warming of our climate, according to the WMO, which released its annual greenhouse gas report ahead of a new round of UN climate talks in Doha later this month.

“Between 1990 and 2011, there was a 30 percent increase in radiative forcing — the warming effect on our climate — because of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping long-lived gases,” the WMO said.

The levels of atmospheric methane, the second most important greenhouse gas after CO2, also reached new highs in 2011, at 1,813 ppb.

This is 259 percent of the pre-industrial level, WMO said, blaming mainly human activities like fossil fuel exploitation, cattle breeding, rice agriculture, landfills and biomass burning.

Also worrying was the increase in nitrous oxide levels, the WMO said, since its impact on climate is almost 300 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.

The gas, emitted into the atmosphere from natural and man-made sources, also plays an important role in the destruction of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays, the WMO said, indicating that its atmospheric concentration in 2011 was about 324.2 ppb, up 1.0 ppb from 2010 and 120 percent of pre-industrial levels.
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« Reply #149 on: Nov 22, 2012, 09:10 AM »

Worldwide rallies planned to protest Japan’s whale and dolphin hunts

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 22, 2012 6:44 EST

Anti-whaling activists said Thursday there would be demonstrations in Tokyo and eight other cities around the world this weekend against Japan’s hunt.

Protesters are expected to gather in the Japanese capital to call for an end to the annual state-sponsored whaling mission to the Southern Ocean, due to start in the next few weeks, and to the capture and slaughter of dolphins in the town of Taiji.

Action for Marine Mammals are planning to march through the commercial districts of Shibuya and Harajuku on Saturday, group spokesman Hideaki Nagai told AFP.

Demonstrations are planned on the same day in Canberra, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Milan, Sao Paulo, Vancouver, and a city in Texas, he said.

“We don’t think whaling and dolphin-hunting are necessary in Japan, although we are not against indigenous people’s rights to hunt marine mammals,” he said.

“In particular, we think hunting wild dolphins to send them to aquariums is ethically problematic,” he added.

Taiji, in the country’s west, drew global attention after “The Cove”, a hard-hitting film about the annual dolphin hunts there, won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2010.

Fishermen corral about 2,000 dolphins into a secluded bay, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and slaughter the rest for meat. The dolphin hunt takes place over a period of months.

Japan hunts whales using a loophole in a global moratorium that allows killing the sea mammals for what it calls “scientific research”, although the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.

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