IHT Rendezvous -
November 22, 2012, 7:26 pm
Endangered and Targeted: Fight to Save Oriental Stork Captivates China
By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
Call it a contest between beauty - in the form of the dramatically elegant black-and-white Oriental Stork - and a beast - carbofuran, a highly toxic pesticide.
In China this month, hunters wielding the chemical that is banned in many places targeted the endangered bird, attempting to kill dozens - and partly succeeding, the Beijing News reported, in Chinese.
Chinese nature lovers are used to tales of the damage inflicted on the environment and wildlife here as the country pursues economic growth decade after decade at seemingly any cost. And people continue to eat wild animals, even rare species, in the belief that they are especially nutritious.
Even so, the story of what happened beginning on Nov. 11th in a wetland near Tianjin, on the Gulf of Bohai, has shocked many.
Every autumn hundreds of the large, graceful storks, which are listed as "endangered" on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, land in the Beidagang wetland reserve where they rest and feed for about two weeks. About 500 - between one-fifth and one-sixth of the world's total - rested there this autumn, bird lovers at the reserve told Chinese media.
Then the birds, whose snowy bodies are fringed by black wing feathers that fan out like giant fingers, take off again, heading south. The reserve lies along their migration route from breeding grounds in eastern Siberia to inland China, where they pass the winter.
But this year, about 20 birds never took off again, killed by hunters laying down the "bird poison" known in Chinese as kebaiwei, the Beijing News reported in investigative stories this week. (Elsewhere, carbofuran is being used even to kill lions, as this report by CBS shows.)
The poison is also a problem in Britain, where the wildlife minister, Richard Benyon, was harshly criticized by opposition members of parliament last month for refusing to ban the substance, the daily The Independent reported.
Over the last ten days, at least two dozen birds were saved by quick action by bird watchers and rescuers like Mo Xunqiang, a student of environmental sciences at Tianjin's Nankai University, the Beijing News reported. View footage, in Chinese, from the state TV broadcaster CCTV, of the saved birds released into the wild this week. Or watch this slideshow from Xinhua.
Shocked and angered, The Beijing News has begun a campaign to protect rare birds from attacks such as these, with a hotline for people to report crimes ( +86-10-67106710 ).
"Don't kill them, don't eat them, don't buy or sell them," the News implored. "Let migratory birds fly, let them live and flourish. Each and every one of us can become a volunteer."
The stork is a class one protected species in China and is culturally venerated here, figuring in one of the most famous poems of the Tang dynasty, Wang Zhihuan's "Climbing White Stork Tower."
The bird is also considered a national treasure in neighboring Japan, where it died out and was re-introduced into the wild from captivity.
But something even more important than culture was at work - money, and the still-large market for eating game.
Each of the birds, which stand around 1.2 meters, or almost four feet, with a wingspan of about 2.2 meters, fetches about 200 renminbi ($32) in local wild game restaurants, the Beijing News reported - not much, but clearly worth it to the hunters.
The newspaper quoted one hunter at the Beidagang reserve, whom it gave the alias of "Lin Long," who said that using carbofuran to kill birds was so widespread that these days hunters greeted each other with the question: "Have you laid pesticide or not?" a variation of the traditional Chinese greeting: "Have you eaten or not?"
Storks aren't the only targets, so are swans and ducks, the newspaper said.
For Chinese conservationists, it's a horrifying tale.
Said Zhu Chunquan, China representative of the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, in a telephone interview, "Please, spread the word - people must love birds, not eat them. Treasure birds, treasure migratory birds in the autumn. We have to get that message across."
11/23/2012 01:04 PM
Forgetting Fukushima: India Pursues Massive Nuclear Expansion
By Wieland Wagner
The 2011 disaster at Japan's Fukushima plant led many countries to turn away from nuclear power. But a growing population and rising economy has prompted India to massively expand its nuclear program -- even in the face of technological worries and fervent opposition.
They placed the photo of the dead man in the entrance of the hut. A lightbulb illuminating his face makes it look like that of a saint. The bereaved widow has her four children stand in front of the photo. They have lost their breadwinner, and now they can only hope that he will continue to somehow feed them even after death. Opponents of nuclear power in India view him as a martyr and are collecting donations for the family.
Sahayam Francis was only 42, and now his picture is displayed everywhere on the straw-roofed houses of Idinthakarai, a fishing village in the state of Tamil Nadu, on the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. It looks like an idyllic place, where fisherman spread their catches out to dry on the beach and repair their nets while sitting under palm trees. But it's a deceptive paradise.
A few kilometers to the southwest, the new Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, built with Russian technology, towers over the haze. In September, the Supreme Court in New Delhi dismissed a lawsuit filed by opponents of nuclear power who were trying to block the loading of fuel at the plant. Now the countdown continues, and the first reactor could be ready for start-up by the end of the year, with the second one to follow shortly thereafter. The reactors are expected to generate a total of 2,000 megawatts of electricity to help satisfy some of the rising economic power's thirst for energy.
On the day of the accident, Sahayam and his neighbors were protesting against the plant. They had formed a human chain in the shallow water, the women wearing colorful saris and the men carrying black flags. Sahayam was standing on a breakwater when a coast guard plane suddenly made a low pass over the crowd. Sahayam's family says that he was so startled that he fell headfirst onto the rocks, dying a short time later.
"They surrounded us like prisoners," complains S. P. Udayakumar, the 53-year-old leader of the nationwide People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy. Udayakumar, who studied political science at American universities, has gathered the villagers in front of the church in Idinthakarai, where he preaches about the evils of nuclear power on a daily basis.
Udayakumar says that millions of people living along the coast could be exposed to radiation if the government continues to pursue its ambitious nuclear program. He spreads out his hand to illustrate the shape of the subcontinent. "Here, here and here," he says. "They want to build nuclear power plants everywhere, and they'll contaminate our ocean and our fish populations."
Dressed in a white robe, Udayakumar looks like a cross between a guru and a guerilla leader. He and several hundred of his fellow activists risk arrest on charges of agitation and other alleged offences.
Taking Risks to Satisfy Demand
Were any lessons learned from Fukushima? What about phasing out nuclear power? The Japanese reactor disaster in March 2011 did little more than briefly stun India's government. Now it is pressing forward with its plans to expand nuclear energy, often against fierce resistance.
The new Kudankulam power plant is intended as only one stage in India's program. Between now and 2032, the government plans to expand the country's nuclear capacity from 4,400 to roughly 63,000 megawatts.
By 2050, India even expects to satisfy a quarter of its electricity demands with nuclear energy. Today, about 20 reactors generate roughly 4 percent of India's electricity, but the country plans to double its nuclear energy capacity in the next five years alone. In doing so, the Indians will rely on particularly controversial reactor types. To make matters worse, many doubt that India -- with its bizarre infrastructure and often chaotic organization -- can keep the technology under control.
Still, the nation of 1.2 billion urgently needs energy, as became glaringly evident last summer when large sections of the country went without power for days and more than 600 million people suffered in the heat without electricity. Blackouts are a common occurrence, and the lights go out, air-conditioners stop running and elevators get stuck every day even in the capital city of New Delhi.
Often inefficiently operated coal-fired power plants and chronic corruption are to blame for India's disastrous power supply. In many states, for example, local politicians illegally tap electricity from the grid and then secure votes by supplying
households with free power. In addition, the central and local governments are constantly jostling over how energy is allocated.
Given these circumstances, India's business community, in particular, views nuclear power as a surefire way to stimulate growth. Impatient backers of nuclear energy even want to see controversial reactors placed directly under the control of the military.
A Symbol of Independence
Kudankulam is already practically under a state of martial law. Journalists who travel to the area are followed and sometimes arrested. Fishermen in Idinthakarai claim that police officers and thugs in civilian clothes recently combed the village for Udayakumar and other activists, albeit unsuccessfully. Before the frustrated intruders left, say villagers, they urinated in the church and desecrated a statue of the Virgin Mary. As evidence, one of the nuclear-power opponents holds up the statue's severed head.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's legendary first prime minister (1947-1964), promoted nuclear development. "We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war," he insisted, though he added that India could "use it for other purposes" if compelled. Ever since, it has been viewed as a symbol of independence, making a phase-out inconceivable for planners in New Delhi.
Indian reactors supplied the plutonium for the country's first nuclear test in 1974, a decade after China detonated its first nuclear bomb. In 1998, the entire nation celebrated further denotations, which gave India a permanent place among nuclear powers. Military leaders named their project "Shakti," the Sanskrit word for "strength." Soon afterwards, Pakistan, India's nemesis to the north, detonated its own nuclear bombs.
American, French, Russian and Japanese companies all want to develop the subcontinent as a market for nuclear power plants. Since the Fukushima disaster, they have been eagerly looking toward India -- because they've been having more trouble selling their technologies at home.
India currently needs foreign uranium to power its reactors. In the long term, however, it hopes to free itself from foreign sources by developing what it needs to complete the full nuclear-reprocessing cycle.
To this end, India's planners are clinging to questionable technologies, such as fast breeder reactors operated with plutonium as well as ones that use thorium. Germany, by comparison, abandoned a similar test plant in the late 1980s because it was too expensive and prone to failure.
But how is India, a developing country, supposed to master a technology that even proved too much for a perfectionist, industrialized nation like Japan to keep under control?
Indeed, there are already growing doubts about the safety of Indian nuclear plants. In August, the country's general accounting office released a devastating critique of the domestic nuclear regulatory agency, noting that more than half of inspection reports were submitted late and that a number of inspections were never even performed.
The government intends to set up a new, independent monitoring agency. But nuclear opponents fear that even this agency could devolve into a vicarious agent of the nuclear lobby.
Arundhati Roy, the novelist and political activist, says that the government lacks the know-how needed to safely operate nuclear power plants. "The Indian government has shown itself incapable of even being able to dispose of day to day garbage, let alone industrial effluent or urban sewage," she scoffed in a message of solidarity to opponents of the plant in Kudankulam. "How does it dare to say that it knows how to deal with nuclear waste?"
Though she might sound rhetorical, Roy is merely describing the sad reality of those living near the power plant. In fact, there are even piles of garbage in front of the local police station. Likewise, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the state-owned company that operates Kudankulam and other reactors, has yet to present a plan for how to permanently dispose of nuclear waste.
However, India's parliament has passed a compensation law that obligates the operators of nuclear power plants and their suppliers to compensate victims should there be a reactor disaster. This is one reason why foreign companies are currently holding off on signing agreements to deliver new reactors to India.
The ongoing struggle over Kudankulam should also dampen the nuclear lobby's enthusiasm. The original contract for the project was signed in 1988 by former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Doubts as greenhouse gas leader hosts climate meet
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 15:50 EST
Qatar has much to prove in the coming days as the fossil fuel producing nation with the world’s largest per capita carbon footprint hosts the 18th UN climate change conference.
Environmentalists question whether the tiny emirate has the diplomatic muscle, and more importantly, the political will, to play a positive role in the critical two-week huddle that kicks off next Monday in Doha.
The oil- and gas-guzzling Gulf nation, seeking to expand its global reach and recently awarded the 2022 football World Cup, insists it is committed to a succesful conference.
Not all are convinced.
“It (Qatar) would not be my choice,” Raul Estrada, an architect of the historic 1997 Kyoto Protocol, told AFP.
He says the country’s funding of the conference would have been an important factor in awarding it the event. But as conference president, Qatar hasn’t been seen to be “pushing for a result”.
“You need to have a strong leadership to have progress, to advance. I don’t see that leadership,” said the Argentine ex-diplomat.
“In the whole history of the climate negotiations, Qatar was trying to avoid the adoption of commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuels in order to mitigate climate change.”
The Gulf state which depends almost entirely on fossil fuels for income and energy will find itself in a strange role — expected to steer some 194 nations towards a new deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and by default, their dependence on oil and gas.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, Qatar was the world’s 19th largest crude oil producer last year and the fourth biggest natural gas exporter.
In its latest Living Planet Report in May, green group WWF named the emirate as the country with the largest ecological footprint.
Qatar has signed up to the Kyoto Protocol on curbing Earth-warming gas emissions, but as a developing country does not have fixed emission reduction targets, nor has it made any voluntary pledge.
It is a coastal dryland that depends solely on energy intensive and costly desalination plants for its water needs.
Qatar “is also one of the 10 developing countries predicted to be most affected by rising sea levels,” former Qatari petroleum minister and conference president Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah said in a statement Wednesday.
“Environmental sustainability is a key pillar of our national vision,” he said.
Sven Teske of Greenpeace International argues that steering the talks towards success was clearly in Qatar’s “mid-term and long-term interest.”
“Reducing (greenhouse gas) emissions is not a burden anymore, it’s a business opportunity… and that changes the dynamics” at the negotiating table, he said.
“When climate negotiations started years ago, solar energy was ten times more expensive than today… Now, it’s really good business,” said Teske, adding Qatar should grab this opportunity for “new markets, new technologies and new businesses in renewable” energy.
But some think this is expecting too much.
“We weren’t reassured by this story showing the Qatari (conference) President (Attiyah) schmoozing at the Oil and Money conference in London the other day,” said Kelly Rigg of the Global Campaign for Climate Action.
“This was clearly bad judgement.”
One European negotiator said Qatar’s latest row with Russia over the crisis in Syria could further hamper its ability to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Climate conferences have made halting progress in the past, even with host nations deemed to have fewer conflicts of interest than Qatar.
There is one thing even the critics seem to agree on: the nation of some 1.6 million stands to lose much if the world’s leaders fail to reverse the global warming trend.
“Climate change and increase in temperatures is making Qatar even more vulnerable to the lack of water and food insecurity” it already faces, UN climate Chief Christiana Figueres said in a video posted on the UNFCC website.
“Every single drop of water that is used in Qatar needs to be desalinated. Every single gram of food that is eaten needs to be either imported or grown with desalinated water,” she added.
“I have no doubt they (Qatar) are committed to a (meeting) that is not only going to be successful in format but that is actually going to be successful in substance.”
Britain delays emissions cut decision to 2016
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 15:48 EST
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks next to British Energy Secretary Ed Davey (right) at the Clean Energy Ministerial conference The British government's long-awaited legislation that aims to secure investment in low-carbon energy will not include a target to cut emissions by 2030, according to details released on Friday. Photo: AFP.
Topics: coalition government ♦ emissions ♦ Prime Minister David Cameron
The British government’s long-awaited legislation to secure investment in low-carbon energy will not include a target to cut emissions by 2030, according to details released on Friday.
After months of wrangling, the coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats reached agreement late on Thursday on an Energy Bill to be published next week.
In a compromise, the coalition partners agreed to delay until 2016 a decision on cutting emissions from the power sector by 2030, but their move was heavily criticised by environmental campaigners.
The negotiations have been characterised as a battleground between finance minister George Osborne, who favours energy generated by gas-powered plants and the Lib Dems, who want clean energy sources such as renewables and nuclear.
Osborne believes the use of gas will keep bills down, while the Lib Dems — the junior partners in the coalition — want gas phased out of the energy system.
An estimated £110 billion (136 billion euros, $175 billion) is needed in the next decade to renew Britain’s ageing electricity infrastructure, with much earmarked for low-carbon power sources such as wind farms to cut emissions.
Ministers agreed that £7.6 billion could go towards securing low-carbon electricity in 2020, up from £2.35 billion this year, but consumers were warned they will see their energy bills rise to pay for it.
The main opposition Labour party said the decision to delay the setting of an emissions target was a “humiliating failure” for the government, while green groups said it left Britain over-reliant on gas at a time when prices were rising.
Energy minister Ed Davey, a Lib Dem, insisted it was “a durable agreement across the coalition against which companies can invest and support jobs and our economic recovery”.
“The decisions we’ve reached are true to the coalition agreement. They mean we can introduce the Energy Bill next week and have essential electricity market reforms up and running by 2014 as planned,” he said.
However, Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said the agreement was “the final nail in the coffin of Cameron’s pledge to lead the greenest government ever.
He added: “This decision motivated by outdated ideology will help keep the nation hooked on increasingly expensive gas, drive away green jobs and investment and jeopardise UK climate goals.”
Politicians urged to seize the moment on climate change after Sandy
By The Guardian
Friday, November 23, 2012 15:04 EST
By Alexander Hotz
Hurricane Sandy might be fresh in the American public’s memory, but for advocates seeking action on climate change time is running out. At a recent event, engineering, disaster preparation and climate science professors at Columbia University urged lawmakers to take advantage of the public’s post Hurricane Sandy interest in global warming and push through bold policies.
“Memory fades very fast,” said civil engineering professor George Deodatis at the university event Monday. “The next six months to a year will be critical.”
Critical because public opinion, especially with sluggish economy and specter of the fiscal cliff, could change soon. Many of the infrastructure investments that the scientists suggested would cost tens of billions of dollars. Although the professors didn’t present a comprehensive plan, they all agreed that a combination of mammoth infrastructure projects would be essential for preparing the United States‘ coastal communities for rising sea levels.
Some of their suggestions include new building codes, moving power lines below ground, wetland restoration, flood barriers, sea gates and the possible relocation of some coastal communities. The Earth Institute’s Jeffery Sachs, who introduced the event, also suggested a carbon tax – but that option is widely regarded as a political impossibly because Congress is so divided.
Despite the potential hurdles Irwin Redlener, a public health professor, cautioned against complacency and argued that the United States shouldn’t wait any longer for meaningful policy.
“We keep on thinking about these big events like wake up calls,” said Redlener. “But really they’re more like snooze alarms. I’m hoping that won’t be the case here”
To decide on and push through these reforms Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior scientist at Columbia’s Nasa-Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that cities were providing the best examples of leadership. Rosenzweig specifically lauded New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg who in 2008 created the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which brought together all the managers of critical infrastructure in New York’s metropolitan region, including cell phone companies and utilities. Rosenzweig praised Bloomberg for his willingness to include scientists in the discussions and his ability to bring different groups together.
Redlener, however, stressed that leadership also meant getting tough with climate denial. “It’s more than just gathering people in groups to talk about what the issues are,” said Redlener. “This has to do with the real hardcore bully pulpit leadership where the president of the United States says: ‘I’m committed to taking this on.’”
Another issue raised at the event was the science behind climate change. Many models have labeled Sandy a once-in-a-multi-century storm, but those models might not take into account the extent of global warming.
“If someone considers that Sandy was a 1,000 year event, what we have to do is go to a completely different model than if we consider Sandy was the 100 year event or the 200 year event,” said Deodatis. “But because we have new conditions this might be the new standard of a 100 year event or even a 50 year event.”
The staggering toll of destruction wrought by the super storm thrust the issue of climate change back into the political conversation after it was largely ignored during the campaign season. Shortly after the storm New York State governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality.” Bloomberg also came out strongly in favor of aggressive policy when he endorsed president Obama citing the president’s willingness to confront global warming.
After his re-election Obama seems to have taken the message to heart. In his first press conference since his reelection he acknowledged that his administration had “not done as much as we need to” to develop climate change policies and that during his second term Americans would hear more from him on the issue.
Delhi government widens ban on plastic: ‘Plastic is an environmental disaster’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 7:23 EST
The Delhi government imposed a blanket ban on the use of all plastic bags on Friday in an attempt to tackle the city’s mounting rubbish problems, an official said.
Thin plastic bags — measuring less than 40 microns thick — were banned in India’s capital in 2009, but the new rules will cover all plastic packaging for items such as magazines and greeting cards as well as garbage bags.
“From today, the government has banned all use, sale and manufacture of plastic bags in the city. No exceptions will be made,” a senior official in the Delhi chief minister’s office told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Plastic is an environmental disaster. These bags clog the city’s drains, they are non-biodegradable. It might take time, but we have to ensure that this ruling is enforced throughout Delhi,” he added.
Those caught violating the new rules will face a unspecified fine.
The 2009 ban on plastic bags is rarely enforced, with vegetable and fruit sellers, small shops and takeaway restaurants still freely using cheap, thin bags to package their products.
According to the Delhi government’s website, the city, which is home to 17 million people, generates 574 metric tonnes (1.2 million pounds) of plastic waste each day.
Earlier this month, a leading plastic manufacturers’ association took the government to court over the new ban in a case that is being heard by the Delhi High Court.
The All India Plastic Industries Association (AIPIA) said the order would jeopardise the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people involved in the manufacture and sale of plastic bags.
The ban on items such as plastic garbage bags is also likely to stir resistance with few alternatives available on the market.
Shopping bags made from jute, a vegetable fibre used to make coarse-textured fabric, have become popular since the 2009 ban but are not widely available for sale.
Death metal: tin mining in Indonesia is wrecking the environment and claiming lives
By Kate Hodal, The Guardian
Saturday, November 24, 2012 8:51 EST
If you own a mobile, it’s probably held together by tin from the Indonesian island of Bangka –where mining is wrecking the environment and claiming dozens of lives
Suge doesn’t have a mobile phone, so he uses a friend’s to tell us the news: he doesn’t want any visitors and he won’t talk. His boss has told him not to say anything. They’re neighbours and the mine’s just up the road and he needs this job – the job he hopes to go back to when he gets better, inshallah – because mining is good money. Everything is OK. Just please don’t come.
We leave at dawn. In the black morning sky the two-lane highway cuts west across the island towards Suge’s village, a cluster of wooden and cinderblock houses near mangroves so deep the palm trees look like drowned bonsais. There are mosques with orange gates and lime roofs, clapboard shacks selling sweets to schoolchildren, and then, every so often, vast expanses of seeming desert.
At the bottom of the sandy dunes sit wide turquoise craters, looked over by gritty hills where haphazard tents made from tarpaulins and thatch serve as shelters for the men descending into the hollowed-out pools with pickaxes and buckets. Fifteen metres deep, they scavenge for tin, cutting into the sand with their hands and feet, just like Suge used to do, until one day in August his pit collapsed, burying him alive and snapping his left shin in half. His cries of “Longsor! Longsor!” – Landslide! – were drowned by the mud that killed the three friends who had been working beside him.
The tin that 44-year-old Suge has mined over the past 12 years on Bangka island – a granite outcrop just east of Sumatra in Indonesia – has been in heavy demand for the past few centuries. Bangka is a key point in its global trade. A long, boot-shaped belt of the metal stretches from Burma all the way down through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, with Bangka and its sister island Belitung comprising its toe.
When the Dutch colonised Indonesia in the early 19th century, one of their first tasks was to carve out vast mines on the island where locals and Chinese coolies worked side by side digging for dark specks of cassiterite – the main mineral in tin ore – to be used in alloys, conductors and tin plating. Today that same tin is mined for use primarily as solder in consumer electronics, according to tin industry group ITRI, holding together the circuit boards, transistors and resistors in items such as smartphones and tablets and mobiles. Around seven grams of tin goes into every mobile phone.
There is a chain here: Bangka and Belitung produce 90% of Indonesia’s tin, and Indonesia is the world’s second-largest exporter of the metal. A recent Businessweek investigation into tin mining in Bangka found that Indonesia’s national tin corporation, PT Timah, supplies companies such as Samsung directly, as well as solder makers Chernan and Shenmao, which in turn supply Foxconn (which manufactures many Apple products). Chernan has also supplied Samsung, Sony and LG. So it is highly likely that the smartphone or tablet you use has Bangkanese tin in it, perhaps mined by Suge or one of the many tens of thousands of men like him, most of whom earn around £5 a day in a local industry that fetches roughly £42m of revenue for Indonesia every year.
It is still early morning when we knock on Suge’s peeling front door, the village chief in tow to help him feel comfortable talking about his accident. Inside, Suge is propped up on a mattress on the floor watching soap operas, an overflowing spittoon at his side. Dangling from the rafters is the rope that keeps his leg elevated at night; today it whirls around his head like a noose not quite reaching its target.
Suge’s father tells us that his son’s accident was unavoidable. “The act of Allah,” he splutters, “a big warning from God for him to change his life!” Suge is crying, spitting tears into the spittoon, moved by his father’s accusation that he never prayed enough before the accident. He begins describing the crumbling wall of mud that enveloped him, the image of his young daughter propelling him to fight to the surface and take his first breath of air. “Look, mining has changed our community,” he says, trembling. “People are wealthier now. They can send their kids to school.”
But he knows that change is afoot. Two of his neighbours recently died while mining, bringing the unofficial death toll this year to 78, and the number of police crackdowns on informal miners has increased significantly in the past month. “We are on the cusp of a revolution here,” Suge says quietly. “My accident was a small sacrifice to give happiness to people in the world, to give them phones and electronics.” He begins likening himself to Napoleon Bonaparte, “the leader of the revolution”, until his father cuts in suddenly: “It’s silly. We are the ones producing the tin but we don’t use it. We don’t have handphones.”
Official police figures show that mining accidents such as Suge’s have quadrupled in the past two years, with the number of deaths increasing from 21 in 2010 to 44 in 2011. But activists say the number of dead actually averages around 100-150 every year, with many cases going unreported. Suge is lucky that his employer – a private mine operator that supplies tin to Timah – is paying him regular compensation and has offered to give him his job back once his leg heals. But compensation is a rare privilege in an industry in which most miners fend for themselves, says Ratno Budi of the Bangka-Belitung branch of Indonesian environment group Walhi. Suge calls the opportunity a “second life” and expects to begin mining again next year.
The word “dilemma” is the one most locals use to describe the situation in Bangka. Tin mining is a lucrative but destructive trade that has scarred the island’s landscape, bulldozed its farms and forests, killed off its fish stocks and coral reefs, and dented tourism to its pretty palm-lined beaches. The damage is best seen from the air, as pockets of lush forest huddle amid huge swaths of barren orange earth. Where not dominated by mines, this is pockmarked with graves, many holding the bodies of miners who have died over the centuries digging for tin. Encircling the island are the dredgers and the suction ships and the thousands of illegal pontoons sucking up ore from the seabed like mechanised mosquitoes.
At 8.30am on a cloudy morning at Rebo beach, Alik, a lanky 35-year-old with shoulder-length hair and a wispy goatee, is looking out at the storm on the horizon with a beer in his hand. As the manager of 20 pontoons – makeshift rafts assembled from wood, thatch, plastic barrels and suction hoses – he is nervous. Soon there will be a meeting with the local government about turning Rebo beach into a tourism destination, essentially putting an end to the illegal mining his 80 men work at every day.
“There’s no other work here besides mining,” Alik says solemnly, pointing with his beer can out to sea. “Last year there were three suction ships just off the shore there. They sucked out almost all the tin, and so this year we have 75% less than last year.” He sighs. “It’s enough to get by but finding tin ore is like gambling. If you’re lucky you’ll find a lot and get rich for the day. If you’re not, you earn just enough for a little food.”
The beach is beautiful – arcing white sands intersecting in turquoise waters – but it is hard to imagine it as a tourist destination any time soon. The village is a smattering of fishing shacks frequented by stray dogs and chickens; the sand is littered with sweet wrappers, water bottles, flip-flops and polystyrene food containers; the sea is cloudy from the dredging.
Once the lifeblood of this beach, fishing is no longer an option, villagers claim. They say that large-scale seabed mining practised by private companies as well as Timah have damaged Rebo’s fish stocks so severely that local fishermen have banded together in protest.
Their leader is Tjong Ling Siaw, a 40-year-old third-generation fisherman. For the past decade he has mounted one-man protests against seabed mining, and earlier this year he marched with members of his 600-strong association from the governor’s office to parliament and Timah’s sprawling headquarters in Bangka’s capital, Pangkal Pinang. “We’re calling for an end to all offshore mining – small-scale and large-scale – in the area,” he says. “The water is cloudy now. There used to be fish and shrimp just three miles from shore. Now we have to go eight miles out and, for the big fish, 17 miles.” He shakes his head and swats away a fly. “The government has spent a lot of money on local programmes teaching fishermen how to catch fish and giving us free engines. If they give us training on how to fish, then why don’t they stop the mining?”
A short walk down the beach, a group of seabed miners are milling in front of their pontoons. Near them, a villager with bandy legs and a bulbous neck tumour is digging into the sand with half a white plastic plate and pouring it into a large bucket. When the bucket is full, he carries it over to a little pit of seawater and drags over what looks like a large wooden sled to start washing and separating the cassiterite from the grains of sand.
“If they stop the mining, I really don’t know what I’ll do,” says Dulaksan, 54. “I’m getting old. I don’t have enough energy to start fishing again.” Without mining, people will become thieves, he says. Will he, too? “If there’s no food to eat, sure. If the police catch me, at least I’ll get a free meal and a place to sleep.”
The seabed miners are also worried. “This is the only work we know how to do,” says Mansur, 35, squatting in his yellow galoshes. “The tin is like a pulse – you have to follow it.” He digs a hole in the sand to demonstrate how he and three co-workers operate. With just a mask and plastic tube connected to a compressor to supply them with air, they dive into the water, hoover up the sand with the suction hose, create a ditch to stand in, then turn the hose towards the newly created sea walls. “There’s a line of white rocks and soil that you look for – the kong – and that’s what you suck up.”
Such practices are extremely dangerous. Umar, a childlike 30-year-old from Rebo with a maniacal laugh, was diving for tin in exactly the same manner when his four metre-deep underwater ditch collapsed around him, knocking away his mask and air tube. When he came to four days later, he discovered that doctors had spent hours pumping mud out of his lungs while he was still in a coma. Villagers at Rebo say accidents like Umar’s were far more frequent in the past – sometimes causing as many as three deaths a month – but now many men stay on board, using long wooden pipes with hoses run off a generator to suck up the tin.
Whether they’re diving or digging for tin, informal miners sell their day’s findings on to middlemen, who also collect ore from miners working in official mines. The middlemen then mix the bags together to sell to smelters and companies such as Timah, or “whoever’s offering the higher price”, says Fitriyadi, 39, a middleman who operates from his home in south Bangka. “I don’t ask where the tin comes from – all I know is that if there’s a lot, they probably weren’t controlled by the police.”
After leading an investigation into tin mining in Bangka earlier this year, Friends of the Earth is now pushing the biggest smartphone companies, Samsung and Apple, to agree and implement a plan that will put an end to the human and environmental problems it causes. The demands are part of FoE’s Make It Better campaign, calling for Europe-wide legislation that would require companies to report on their products’ full human and social impacts – from accidents and pollution to how much water, land and raw materials they use. “Samsung and Apple have the power to help improve the situation [in Bangka],” says campaigner Julian Kirby. “Millions of us love our smartphones; this new mandatory company reporting would set us on track to also being able to love the way they’re made.”
In an emailed statement to the Guardian, Samsung said that it had recently “been trying to investigate sources of minerals in our supply chain” and added: “We will monitor the Bangka island situation to determine if an investigation into whether tin in our supply chain is being sourced from the region is required.” At Apple, a spokesman said that the company’s “commitment to social responsibility extends to the source of raw materials used in the manufacturing of our products. We require that our suppliers only use materials that have been procured through a conflict-free process and from sources that adhere to our standards of human rights and environmental protection.” He did not clarify whether Apple sourced its tin from Bangka, pointing instead to a 2012 supplier responsibility report identifying (but not naming) 179 tin suppliers and 58 tin smelters.
LG, meanwhile, told the Guardian that it “takes the Friends of the Earth investigation seriously and believes that this issue requires action at an industry-wide level”. A Sony spokesperson said its 2005 code of conduct “expects” suppliers to agree and adhere to “respect for human rights, environmental conservation and health and safety”, and pointed to an online report on responsible sourcing, which says: “Sony supports and contributes to industry initiatives such as the traceability project for tin launched in 2010 by ITRI… to validate that the metals used in its products are not contributing to conflict and come from sustainable sources.”
To say that mining is everywhere on Bangka seems an exaggeration until one studies the numbers. Government officials estimate that roughly 20% of Bangka-Belitung’s 1.3m islanders are miners, with a further 40% involved in related industries – working in the smelters, for example, or trading as middlemen, or selling generators. There are mines in backyards, mines in the forest, mines on the side of the road, mines out at sea. Unofficial miners scrape for tin next to official bulldozers at a 5,000-hectare mine operated by Timah. The vast government compound in Pangkal Pinang is built on a reclaimed mine, and even here men with pickaxes can be seen digging when officials aren’t looking.
At the provincial tourism office in the government compound, framed photos of beaches hang next to those of mines, the bright blue sky reflected in their stagnant pools. The irony is not lost on director Yan Megawandi. “For tourism, mining is a big problem.” He sighs. “Tin mining has been exploited here for more than 200 years, so changing people’s mindsets is really a challenge for us.” He unfolds a map of the island and lays it out on his desk. “The eastern beaches of Bangka are the best on this island. But they’re also very rich in potential tin. When there’s mining in front of [Bangka's best hotels], it’s noisy and the water becomes dirty. Tourists complain to the hotel, and the hotel complains to me.” He clasps his hands together to explain the difficulty of his position. “We have no power to stop the mining here. I can only suggest to mining officials or the local police or journalists that we stop the mining.”
An hour north of Megawandi’s office, down winding lanes lined with trees that obscure the mining pits just a few metres either side, lies Parai Beach Resort & Spa, a four-star resort with cabins perched under palm trees, a long sandy beach and views out to a glittering sea. Despite a location on one of Bangka’s most popular beaches, occupancy here is down 90% – all because of the seabed mining last year, according to manager Edy Mulyana.
“The government said there would only be one or two ships, and that they’d be far from shore, but actually there were 20, 30, 40 ships – so many I couldn’t count,” he says. “The ships were loud, the smell was bad and the water was cloudy and dirty. No one wants to vacation if they can’t swim.”
Some 35 companies are involved in mining in Bangka-Belitung, and mining and related industries account for roughly 60% of the province’s revenue, says Bangka-Belitung’s head of mining and energy, Aldan Djalil. Tourism now brings in a mere fraction of what mining earns – just £810,000 compared with mining’s £42m, according to 2011 figures – but I ask Djalil whether tourism could trump mining in the future. He takes out a laser pointer and aims it at a triptych of badly hung wall maps in his office. “This is good view, here good view,” he says in English, his red laser dancing across the pink splodges of official mining zones. “But so much potential for tin!” he laughs gleefully. He adjusts his tracksuit bottoms around his pot belly and then says with gravity: “Before there were hotels, there was tin.”
Government officials such as Djalil, as well as industry officials, are aware that tin ore on Bangka will soon run out. This explains Timah’s current strategy, “Go offshore, go deeper”, as well as the newest addition to its offshore fleet: a massive bucketwheel dredger with a long, chainsaw-like arm that can churn up tin ore from 70 metres below the seabed, nearly twice as deep as the current dredgers manage.
The extent and severity of the mining both on- and offshore have resulted in massive changes to the geology of Bangka and to its food chain. While there have been some environmental successes – in Belitung last month, 10,000 protesters called successfully for a revocation of seabed-mining permits – more than half of Bangka’s coral reefs are now in critical condition, according to Walhi. On land, the pits’ stagnant pools of water become breeding grounds for dengue fever and malaria. Tin mining typically requires land to be bulldozed, then hosed down and dug up, meaning that the fertile topsoil so essential for agriculture and plantations is lost, and acidic soil brought to the surface instead.
Aware of the problems, the government is now looking at solutions. A draft law to be signed by parliament in December would refocus the provincial budget away from mining and on to agriculture, fishing and tourism, funding rubber and pepper plantations and boosting infrastructure, according to Didit Srigusjaya, a local MP who sits on the parliamentary regulations commission. There’s also a new edict from the central forestry ministry whereby communities will be able to bulldoze up to a fifth of the forest in their locality for agriculture or plantation use. While this may bring some people back to farming, however, cutting down more trees is not a beneficial long-term strategy, according to Walhi’s Budi, who claims that 77% of Bangka’s forests are already in critical condition.
Under current legislation, all former mining pits are required to be turned into reclamation projects like farms and plantations, but a drive around the island shows that most are either left abandoned or are still being exploited by groups of informal miners, many of whom sleep and eat on site under makeshift tents. Sometimes a newly planted banana tree can be seen sticking up out of the thick mud, its yellowed leaves withering in the sun.
Timah, which operates 510,000 hectares of on- and offshore mining concessions, says that its new policy is to focus on the environment. Where once the company hired subcontractors who could mine where they chose, under new regulations the location and duration of their activities must be controlled directly by the corporation.
“The new programme is designed to save the environment,” says spokesman Agung Nugroho, explaining that the changes will allow Timah to better control the damage wrought by mining. But it seems that this new policy may in fact be a smokescreen to increase profits. Nugroho admits that Timah is losing money to informal miners and companies that collect tin ore from its mines but sell it on to others. “We have the biggest mining area, but we are not producing the most tin,” he complains. “Our deposit is being stolen.”
It is this complaint – rather than calls for better safety controls – that has seemingly forced the police to clamp down on the island’s informal miners. Under the leadership of Bangka-Belitung’s new police chief, Budi Untung, police have made the same number of arrests in the past five weeks as they did in the previous nine months.
“We want to change the community mindset so that mining isn’t the only focus of income – there’s agriculture, plantations, other jobs to do here,” says Untung, 54, from an office so huge it encompasses four sofas, various planters and orchids, and a flatscreen TV.
Disused mines will be patrolled and turned into reclamation sites, Untung says, with the miners who disobey arrested and possibly sent to jail. “People’s mindsets about tin will change because of the price one day. Coal today is very cheap and tin one day will have a low price, too.”
In the six days I am on Bangka, I see just one police raid. The generator the informal miners use to both wet the sand and suck it up out of the mine has sputtered to a stop as the officers warn them not of the risks they are running, but of the damage they could do to the highway 100 metres away. “The road could collapse,” the officer says. “This is a warning, otherwise we will confiscate your equipment.”
Timah says that it offers health and safety training to its employees and subcontractors (Suge confirms that he underwent such training with his employer) and that its mines must be dug in terraces to diminish the possibility of a landslide. But many mines on Bangka are dug straight down, and no one – from the police chief to Walhi to government officials – has ever heard of a mine owner being prosecuted for dangerous practices.
When asked who is responsible when a death or injury like Suge’s takes place in a mine run by a subcontractor supplying tin to Timah, Nugroho says, “If they work for us, then all the health and safety is checked by us. People can make mistakes and when we investigate, it can be settled by us and that company.” Does that mean prosecution, or an economic settlement? “It is settled,” he repeats without clarifying, but says it is in accordance with government law.
Death and injury are part and parcel of this job, Suge says. “Every job has its risks.”
His wife looks forlornly away. “Everyone’s husband works in the mines,” she says when asked if she’s worried about her own. “I just feel lucky he survived the accident.”
Suge expects it to take a full year for the bones of his leg to heal. He needs a new pair of crutches – his old-fashioned wooden ones are an uncomfortable way to get around – so when he calls to thank us for the small sum of money we gave him to purchase new ones, I’m not surprised.
“Hey! Thanks for the donation,” he cries. “But I used the money to buy something else – a mobile phone!”
© Guardian News and Media 2012
From Public Broadcasting Corp.
THE DUST BOWL chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the "Great Plow-Up," followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our peril.
Click to watch: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl/
Originally published Friday, November 23, 2012 at 8:40 PM
Huge, earthy goddess landform artwork spurs public discourse:
At one hearing, local evangelicals said Northumberlandia was promoting paganism over Christianity.
By Adrian Higgins
The Washington Post
CRAMLINGTON, England — The parking lot looks like any other in Britain receiving families for their "country-walk" fix, but the passage through the adjacent woodland feels just a little too directed to be entirely natural.
At the end of the path, the sylvan curtain is thrown back to reveal something strange and wondrous, a hill rising nine stories and with the profile of a face, carved from stone and earth and skinned in grass.
At first, the visage appears androgynous, but then you notice the rest of the figure stretching a quarter of a mile to your right: the breasts, the hips, a delicate hand open and pointing, outlined by slivers of pond water.
Meet the supine earth goddess named, variously, Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North or, to the locals in this coal-mining area, the Lady.
Officially opened by a woman — Princess Anne — in September, the hill has become an apparent hit, with 25,000 visitors in its first few weeks.
And yet as Northumberlandia was in the planning or building stages, it was assailed for various reasons, not least by a tabloid press mesmerized by its nearly 100-foot breasts. At one hearing, local evangelicals said it was promoting paganism over Christianity.
"They were worried about it being a pagan love god that would inspire the locals to make love on her," said Charles Jencks, creator of the landform.
"She's not a pagan god, and people aren't going to lose their moral compass if they walk all over her," he said. Jencks, 73, is an architectural critic and land artist who was born in Baltimore.
The figure is said to be the largest human form on the planet. From its summit, the face, you can see as you turn the distant North Sea, the city of Newcastle and, north, to the hill country of the Cheviots, whose undulations inspired the lady's curves and contours.
A Lilliputian feel
At times, there is a Lilliputian feel to hiking on her, as you traverse four miles of paths that delineate her legs, hips, hair and the rest.
The face, in particular, draws the eye. The nose forms a triangle of stone and turf, in cross section, and the enlarged forehead provides a sheltered seating area against the constant winds. The stone lips are full.
On his digital drawing board, Jencks exaggerated the features, knowing we are all wired to look at faces.
"What is the most interesting thing to people?" Jencks said. "Other people."
Critics aren't sure what to make of it. "It's quite difficult to take it seriously," said Tim Richardson, a London-based landscape historian and critic. "This massive woman you climb up."
The Lady is a joint project of the Blagdon Estate, a 10,000-acre family property that dates to 1698, and the Banks Group, an energy company. Banks is extracting coal from a surface mine next to the site.
The entities wanted to create an iconic feature that would enhance a part of the site, given its visibility near a major highway and rail line, and they shared its $5 million cost.
The female figure was formed over two years by the miners and their huge earth-moving machines using 1.5 million metric tons of clay, soil and rock excavated from the mine site. Jencks made visits to check on progress and approve changes. The Lady, leased for 99 years to a charity named the Land Trust, draws her multisyllabic name from the county in which she sits, Northumberland.
The Blagdon Estate's director, Bob Downer, sees the Lady as a gesture of environmental stewardship to the local people. Jencks also sees her as a gateway north to the Cheviot Hills and beyond, to Scotland. And like all his work, she is filled with cosmic symbolism.
Rugged coal corner
If Gulliver was tethered to the ground by his tiny captors, Northumberlandia seems to be coming out of the earth. Indeed, the sideways orientation of the hip suggests she is dancing.
She inhabits a rugged corner of northeastern England, whose rich coal seams fueled the Industrial Revolution.
From atop her windblown face, Downer surveys the various aspects. "It's just a view you can't get anywhere else," he said.
Other landforms that seek to speak to the cosmos exist from the time of the ancient Britons, and Northumberlandia shares that terrestrial DNA.
The most famous primal solar instrument is Stonehenge, but Jencks also notes that there are six large figures of white horses in England, formed by revealing the underlying chalk in the hills on which they were drawn.
Jencks is known in Britain for his collaboration with his wife, Maggie Keswick, in creating a series of high-design cancer centers. In a relaxed, bright and aesthetic setting, patients and their families have a place to get advice or simply to talk with other patients outside the drab corridors of the treatment hospitals.
The first center opened in 1996, the year after Keswick, a garden designer and historian, died from breast cancer at age 54.
Jencks persuaded leading international architects to design subsequent centers, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers.
But in the design world, Jencks was known first as an architectural critic who assailed modern architecture and then for his work as a land artist.
Perhaps his best-known project is the Garden of Cosmic Speculation that Keswick and Jencks developed at Portrack House, Keswick's family home in southwestern Scotland.
Jencks notes that humans have been "speculating on cosmic events and existence for at least 80,000 years." But only in recent decades have we come to understand the science of its origins and workings. This has led to a shift in our consciousness that he explores in his work.
"We are living in a new paradigm. We now know the universe back to the beginning; we know so many things that upset the modernist Newtonian worldview," he said. Jencks and other contemporary artists are finding inspiration in the cosmic patterns of a universe in constant metamorphosis.
While the old sciences "were linear, deterministic and relatively simple," Jencks said, the new cosmic age brings a caldron of fractals, spirals, soliton waves and other shapes. He sees their effects everywhere: in the chaotic dance of a hurricane, the stormy Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a draining bathtub or the nerve impulses of our brains.
Horticulture as art
Katie Campbell, a landscape historian based in London, said this newfound scientific knowledge of the cosmos is not yet part of the public's consciousness, and she wonders whether observers of Jencks' work will get it.
"Half of me thinks it's pretentious bull, and half of me thinks, how intriguing, and it's provocative," Campbell said, adding, however, "that we are talking about horticulture as a contemporary art form is pretty fabulous."
Campbell said she found Jencks' writings pompous, but when she heard him lecture, her view changed. "He's not arrogant. He's sweet and naive and earnest," she said. "It makes one feel less antagonistic toward him."
As hikers walk around the Lady, much of the work reads as a series of winding paths past contoured mounds and spirals. "Fifty percent of the time, you're not supposed to know it's a woman," Jencks said.
As the anthropomorphism fades, certain details come to the fore, such as the way the shaggy grass blows in the wind. Jencks has said his work is best experienced early or late in the day, when long shadows accentuate the features.
The figure provides a series of resting and viewing platforms, the uppermost on the forehead. From here, there is a view of the open cast mine, with its evident coal seams, several huge dump trucks (rendered toy-size) and the storage yard.
The waste from coal mining, slag, caused the tabloid press to dub Northumberlandia "Slag Alice," a play on an unflattering, fictitious character here named Slack Alice.
The name makes Downer bristle. "The local people are mightily offended when the popular press comes up with names like this."
At his side is Katie Perkin, a spokeswoman for Banks. "People in Cramlington call it the Lady, their Lady, and there's a real sense of ownership but also a real sense of affection," she said.
Jencks seems sanguine about the digs. "Public art has to go through that crucible. I think she's strong enough to take anything we throw at her."
Northumberlandia, near Cramlington, England, is a huge land sculpture in the shape of a reclining female figure. It was designed by landform artist Charles Jencks.
November 24, 2012 03:00 PMU.N. Report: Already Too Late To Avert Worst Of Global Warming
By Susie Madrak
I'd really like to know what our nation's leaders plan to do about this. Not that I don't love drought, firestorms, tornadoes and massive hurricanes, it just might be nice to do something so they don't happen as often -- but they don't seem all that interested. Maybe someone should do something about that?
Global greenhouse-gas emissions already have passed the point where the worst effects of global warming could be averted, and they are still rising, according to the third annual United Nations report on the so-called emissions gap.
Some countries have made pledges to help reverse this trend by lowering their emissions. However, the report by the U.N. Environment Programme warns that the gap between these pledges and reductions necessary to cap average global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2020 continues to widen.
"In addition we have one year less to close it," said Niklas Höhne, one of the UNEP report's lead authors.
The report, released shortly before an annual round of climate talks set to begin on Monday (Nov. 26) in Qatar, seeks to balance a heightened sense of urgency with a positive message.
"It is technically feasible and economically feasible that the gap can be closed," Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at the independent research and consulting company Ecofys, told LiveScience.
In 2009, at a meeting in Copenhagen, international negotiators agreed to the goal of capping global warming at 2 degrees C by 2020. Following the meeting, some nations submitted pledges to cut their emissions. The United States, for example, pledged to bring its emissions to about 17 percent below the 2005 level.
In the years since, nations have not made any substantial change to their pledges.
The UNEP report highlights the gap between these pledges and cuts needed put the world on a "likely" path to stay below the 2-degree target. It calculates that the annual emission rate by 2020 should be no more than 48.5 gigatons (44 metric gigatons) of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RM7PrULcqEU#
November 24, 2012Swallowing Rain Forest, Cities Surge in Amazon
By SIMON ROMERO
PARAUAPEBAS, Brazil — The Amazon has been viewed for ages as a vast quilt of rain forest interspersed by remote river outposts. But the surging population growth of cities in the jungle is turning that rural vision on its head and alarming scientists, as an array of new industrial projects transforms the Amazon into Brazil’s fastest-growing region.
The torrid expansion of rain forest cities is visible in places like Parauapebas, which has changed in a generation from an obscure frontier settlement with gold miners and gunfights to a sprawling urban area with an air-conditioned shopping mall, gated communities and a dealership selling Chevy pickup trucks.
Scientists are studying such developments and focusing on the demands on the resources of the Amazon, the world’s largest remaining area of tropical forest. Though Brazilian officials have historically viewed the colonization of the Amazon as a matter of national security — military rulers built roads to the forest under the slogan “Occupy it to avoid surrendering it” — deforestation in the region already ranks among the largest contributors to global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Brazil has shifted away from colonization, but policies that regularize land claims by squatters still lure migrants to the Amazon. And while the country has recently made progress in curbing deforestation, largely by enforcing logging laws and carving out protected forest areas, biologists and other climate researchers fear that the sharp increase in migration to cities in the Amazon, which now has a population approaching 25 million, could erode those gains.
“More population leads to more deforestation,” said Philip M. Fearnside, a researcher at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, an Amazonian city that registered by far the fastest growth of Brazil’s 10 largest cities from 2000 to 2010. The number of residents grew 22 percent to 1.7 million, according to government statistics.
Of the 19 Brazilian cities that the latest census indicates have doubled in population over the past decade, 10 are in the Amazon. Altogether, the region’s population climbed 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, while Brazil as a whole grew just 12 percent.
Various factors are fueling this growth, among them larger family sizes and the Amazon’s high levels of poverty in comparison with other regions that draw people to the cities for work. While Brazil’s birthrate has fallen to 1.86 children per woman, one of the lowest in Latin America, the Amazon has Brazil’s highest rate, at 2.42.
Then there is the region’s economic allure.
Sinop, a city of 111,000 people in Mato Grosso State, grew about 50 percent in the past decade as soybean farmers expanded operations there. Fiscal incentives for manufacturing promote growth in Manaus and satellite towns like Manacapuru and Rio Preto da Eva. Logging still provides the lifeblood for growing towns along BR-163, an important Amazon highway now being paved.
Elsewhere in the Amazon, the biggest linchpins for the fast-growing cities are major energy and industrial projects. The construction of dozens of hydroelectric projects, including sprawling dams that have drawn protests, are luring manual laborers from around Brazil to cities like Pôrto Velho, in Rondônia State, and Altamira, in Pará.
Here in Parauapebas, also in Pará, an open-pit iron ore mine provides thousands of jobs. Plans for additional mines here, supported largely by forecasts of robust demand in China, have lured many to this corner of the Amazon in search of work. Just since the 2010 census, the city’s population has swelled to an estimated 220,000 from 154,000.
“This entire area was thick, almost impenetrable, jungle,” said Oriovaldo Mateus, an engineer who arrived here in 1981 to work for Vale, the Brazilian mining giant. That was about the time that the authorities cut a road through the forest, making the settlement of Parauapebas feasible. By the early 1990s, he said, it had muddy roads, brothels and more than 25,000 people.
“Now, Brazil’s future is in Parauapebas and other cities of the Amazon,” said Mr. Mateus, 62, who heads the city’s business association and owns a company that leases mining equipment. He boasted that on some frenetic days, as many as two homes are built each hour to meet surging demand in the city’s settlements.
Indeed, the streets of Parauapebas pulse with vitality. People shout to be heard along Rua 24 de Março, a traffic-clogged thoroughfare reverberating with the buzzing of motorcycle taxis, Pentecostal preachers bellowing warnings of sin and car stereos blaring eletromelody, the thumping electronic music style popular in this part of the Amazon.
Venture to the outskirts of Parauapebas, and slums of wooden shacks stretch to the horizon. One area where squatters have put down stakes is called Nova Vitória. With about 1,200 such homes, it is a magnet for strivers.
“I came here because the economic conditions are strong,” said Francisco Amorim da Silva, 20, who arrived in August from Marabá, another Amazonian city. Already, he has a small store selling basic foods like rice and beans and household items like laundry detergent.
Asked how much investment it takes to start such an operation, Mr. Amorim da Silva whipped out an iPhone and did the math, calculating the cost of a barren lot, building materials and a bit of start-up capital, which he said he obtained from selling a used Honda motorcycle. “Four thousand reais,” he replied, or about $2,000.
Some researchers have argued that in addition to allowing migrants to raise their living standards, migration to cities in tropical countries might actually reduce forest loss by depopulating certain rural areas, allowing tropical forests to regrow. But others contend that the migration may increase deforestation by permitting cattle ranchers, already responsible for razing big portions of forest, to acquire lands held by small cultivators.
The soaring population growth in some cities in the Amazon — called the “world’s last great settlement frontier” by Brian J. Godfrey, a geography professor at Vassar College who is the co-author of “Rainforest Cities” — is intensifying an urbanization that has been advancing for decades. For more than 20 years, a majority of the Brazilian Amazon’s population has lived in urban areas.
“It’s great that people are moving out of poverty, but one of the things we need to understand when people move out of poverty is there is a larger demand on resources,” said Mitchell Aide, a University of Puerto Rico biology professor, whose research has shown that deforestation has occurred on a larger scale than reforestation in Brazil’s Amazon over the past decade.
Such environmental worries seem far from the minds of those who arrive here in Parauapebas. These days, a train comes three times a week from Maranhão in northeast Brazil, delivering hundreds of people each time. On a recent humid night, Maria Antonia Santos, 34, arrived with her six children from Zé Doca, a city more than 16 hours away.
As she lugged her family’s possessions in plastic bags, she explained her motivation: “I was told this is the best place in Brazil to start on life again.”
Taylor Barnes contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.
November 26, 2012, 2:00 am
As Doha Climate Talks Convene, Report Finds Broken Promises
By CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE
All eyes are on Doha, Qatar, this week as world leaders, politicians, academics and environmentalists gather to work on a global solution to climate change at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
O.K., not all eyes.
After deep disappointment at the Rio+20 conference in June, when nations wrestled with the related challenges of sustainable development, more and more people may be ignoring these global confabs.
Still, it is in Doha that the slow-turning wheels of global politics will try to devise plans to both mitigate climate change and adapt to it. "This conference is not merely procedural, it can also bring about important policy," said Martin Kaiser, head of the International Climate Politics unit of Greenpeace.
Watch on Youtube.
One important discussion during the two week conference - meetings start today and continue through Dec. 7 - will center on a new emissions cap-and-trade agreement, as the famously flawed Kyoto Protocol is scheduled to expire this year.
My colleague Andrew C. Revkin posted this funny, very short video primer to explain the very complicated matter of climate treaties (above and here).
But how much of the talk - even the seemingly "easy" commitments to honor, like cash support to poor countries - are actually fulfilled? Not many, says a report to be released today by a British think tank. Some of the world's richest countries have failed to honor their financial pledges to some of the world's poorest.
The European Union and nine countries pledged about $30 billion under the so-called fast-start funding program overseen by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen three years ago.
"The biggest surprise is that the countries that gave the money did not track it in any significant way," said Saleemul Huq, one of authors of the study, The Eight Unmet Promises of Fast-Start Climate Finance, in a telephone interview from Doha.
According to the report by the International Institute for Environment and Development - which also examined whether nations were giving enough, whether funds were loans or grants and whether they went toward mitigation or adaptation projects - transparency is lacking when it comes to funds committed to fighting global climate change. Mr. Huq blames the tendency of big donor nations to channel funds through third-party agencies, such as USAID in the case of the United States.
Of the $30 billion committed under fast-start, very little has actually reached the recipient countries. Even less has made its way into adaption projects that poor countries, which disproportionately feel the effects of climate change, need, according to Mr. Huq.
The funding, which was to cover a three year period ending this year, was supposed to support mitigation and adaptation projects in equal measure. The money was also supposed to be new. But I.I.E.D. found that many donor nations either recommitted previously pledged funds or paid disproportionately toward climate mitigation projects.
Long debated in countries most vulnerable to environmental change, the debate on climate change adaptation has become a hot topic in the United States, which recently has been struck by a series of extreme weather events.
The I.I.E.D report found that the United States, which pledged $5.1 billion at the Copenhagen meeting, was allocating about 17 percent of the total for adaptation measures in the world's poorest countries. When it comes to donor transparency, the United States was rated 9th of the total 10 donors by the report. The European Union was rated 5th on the same scale. While Switzerland led the pack in terms of transparency, the think tank found that the country's original pledge of $135.5 million represented only 75 percent of its fair share, a metric based on perceived responsibility and capacity to help (by the same metric, the United States was found to be contributing 43 percent of its fair share).
At Doha, countries are expected to commit to another round of fast-start funding. The next commitment - $100 billion - is pledged starting in 2020, leaving an eight year gap for which funding has yet to be committed.
The conference comes at a critical time. With the European Union, which has long shown leadership on the issue of climate change, currently focused on in its own fiscal difficulties, activists worry that the Doha summit will not lead to the necessary solutions.
"Without a strong E.U. at the table, it will be impossible to convince the U.S. to become active," said Mr. Kaiser of Greenpeace.
Of course, the E.U. was at the table at Rio +20.
What do you think? Do you believe the U.N. framework meetings at Doha will present an opportunity to steer the world toward a climate change solution?
Growing food in the desert: a solution to the world’s food crisis?
By The Guardian
Sunday, November 25, 2012 21:10 EST
by Jonathan Margolis
The scrubby desert outside Port Augusta, three hours from Adelaide, is not the kind of countryside you see in Australian tourist brochures. The backdrop to an area of coal-fired power stations, lead smelting and mining, the coastal landscape is spiked with saltbush that can live on a trickle of brackish seawater seeping up through the arid soil. Poisonous king brown snakes, redback spiders, the odd kangaroo and emu are seen occasionally, flies constantly. When the local landowners who graze a few sheep here get a chance to sell some of this crummy real estate they jump at it, even for bottom dollar, because the only real natural resource in these parts is sunshine.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that a group of young brains from Europe, Asia and north America, led by a 33-year-old German former Goldman Sachs banker but inspired by a London theatre lighting engineer of 62, have bought a sizeable lump of this unpromising outback territory and built on it an experimental greenhouse which holds the seemingly realistic promise of solving the world’s food problems.
Indeed, the work that Sundrop Farms, as they call themselves, are doing in South Australia, and just starting up in Qatar, is beyond the experimental stage. They appear to have pulled off the ultimate something-from-nothing agricultural feat – using the sun to desalinate seawater for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses as required, and thence cheaply grow high-quality, pesticide-free vegetables year-round in commercial quantities.
So far, the company has grown tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers by the tonne, but the same, proven technology is now almost ready to be extended to magic out, as if from thin air, unlimited quantities of many more crops – and even protein foods such as fish and chicken – but still using no fresh water and close to zero fossil fuels. Salty seawater, it hardly needs explaining, is free in every way and abundant – rather too abundant these days, as our ice caps melt away.
So well has Sundrop’s 18-month project worked that investors and supermarket chains have lately been scurrying down to Port Augusta, making it hard to get a room in its few motels, or a table at the curry restaurant in the local pub. Academic agriculturalists, mainstream politicians and green activists are falling over each other to champion Sundrop. And the company’s scientists, entrepreneurs and investors are about to start building an £8m, 20-acre greenhouse – 40 times bigger than the current one – which will produce 2.8m kg of tomatoes and 1.2m kg of peppers a year for supermarkets now clamouring for an exclusive contract.
It’s an inspiring project, more important, it could be argued, than anything else going on in the world. Agriculture uses 60-80% of the planet’s scarce fresh water, so food production that uses none at all is nothing short of miraculous.
Growing food in a desert, especially in a period of sustained drought, is a pretty counterintuitive idea and Sundrop’s horticultural breakthrough also ignores the principle that the best ideas are the simplest. Sundrop’s computerised growing system is easy to describe, but was complex to devise and trickier still to make economically viable.
A 75m line of motorised parabolic mirrors that follow the sun all day focuses its heat on a pipe containing a sealed-in supply of oil. The hot oil in turn heats nearby tanks of seawater pumped up from a few metres below ground – the shore is only 100m away. The oil brings the seawater up to 160C and steam from this drives turbines providing electricity. Some of the hot water from the process heats the greenhouse through the cold desert nights, while the rest is fed into a desalination plant that produces the 10,000 litres of fresh water a day needed to keep the plants happy. The water the grower gets is pure and ready for the perfect mix of nutrients to be added. The air in the greenhouse is kept humid and cool by trickling water over a wall of honeycombed cardboard evaporative pads through which air is driven by wind and fans. The system is hi-tech all the way; the greenhouse is in a remote spot, but the grower, a hyper-enthusiastic 27-year-old Canadian, Dave Pratt, can rather delightfully control all the growing conditions for his tonnes of crops from an iPhone app if he’s out on the town – or even home in Ontario.
It’s the kind of thing an enlightened futurologist might have imagined for the 21st century, and to enter Sundrop’s greenhouse from the desert outside, passing the array of sun-tracking solar parabolic mirrors that looks like something from a film set, is to feel you’ve arrived at a template for tomorrow-world. The warm, humid air laden with the scent of ripening tomatoes is in such contrast to the harsh landscape outside, where it tops a parched 40C for much of the year, that it feels as if the more brutal sides of both nature and economics are being benignly cheated. You can supply billions with healthy, cheap food, help save the planet and make a fortune? There has to be a catch.
There seems, however, to be only one significant person in the world who feels there is indeed a catch, and, a little bizarrely, that is the inventor of the technology, one Charlie Paton, the British lighting man mentioned earlier, who is currently to be found in his own experimental greenhouse, atop a three- storey former bakery at the London Fields end of Hackney, east London, feeling proud-ish, but not a little sour, about the way things have worked out 10,000 miles away in the desert between the Flinders mountains and the Spencer Gulf.
If you are of an ecological bent, Paton’s name may ring a bell. He is the multi-honoured founder of a veritable icon of the green world, a 21-year established family company called Seawater Greenhouse, originators of the idea of growing crops using only sunlight and seawater. Earlier this month, Paton was given the prestigious title Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts, and a few months earlier, Seawater Greenhouse won first prize in the best product category of the UK’s biggest climate-change awards scheme, Climate Week. If Sundrop Farms takes off worldwide, the charming and idealistic Charlie Paton could well be in line for a knighthood, even a Nobel Prize; the potential of his brainchild – the ability to grow infinite quantities of cheap, wholesome food in deserts – is that great.
There’s just one problem in all this. Although he and his family built the South Australia greenhouse with their own hands, Sundrop has abandoned pretty much every scrap of the ultra-simple Paton technology regarding it as “too Heath Robinson” and commercially hopeless. Some of the Patons’ home-made solar panels in wooden frames are still connected up and powering fans, but are falling apart. Nearly all the rest of their installation has been replaced with hi-tech kit which its spiritual father views with contempt. He dismisses Sundrop’s gleaming new £160,000 tracking mirrors from Germany and the thrumming Swiss desalination plant and heat-exchanging tanks as “bells and whistles” put in to impress investors. Sundrop and Seawater have parted company and Paton accuses them of abandoning sustainability in the interests of commercial greed. He is particularly distressed by the installation of a backup gas boiler to keep the crops safe if it’s cloudy for a few days.
But we will return to Charlie Paton later; sadly, perhaps, developments in the South Australian desert are now overshadowing the doubts and travails of their original inspiration. And they are quite some developments. “These guys have been bold and adventurous in having the audacity to think that they could do it,” says the head of Australia’s government-funded desalination research institute, Neil Palmer. “They are making food without risk, eliminating the problems caused not just by floods, frost, hail but by lack of water, too, which now becomes a non-issue. Plus, it stacks up economically and it’s infinitely scalable – there’s no shortage of sunshine or seawater here. It’s all very impressive.”
“The sky really is now the limit,” confirms Dutch water engineer Reinier Wolterbeek, Sundrop’s project manager. “For one thing, we are all young and very ambitious. That’s how we select new team members. And having shown to tough-minded horticulturalists, economists and supermarket buyers that what we can do works and makes commercial sense, there’s now the possibility of growing protein, too, in these closed, controlled greenhouse environments. And that means feeding the world, no less.”
An unexpected bonus of the Sundrop system is that the vegetables produced, while cropping year-round and satisfying the supermarkets’ demand for blemish-free aesthetic perfection, can also be effectively organic. It can’t be called organic (in Australia at least) because it’s grown “hydroponically” – not in soil – but it is wholly pesticide-free, a selling point the Australian supermarkets are seizing on, and apparently fed only benign nutrients. Sundrop is already being sold in local greengrocers in Port Augusta as an ethically and environmentally friendly high-end brand.
Because there’s no shortage of desert in which to site it, a Sundrop greenhouse can be built in isolation from others and be less prone to roving pests. Those that sneak in can be eliminated naturally. In this closeted micro-world, Dave Pratt with his trusty iPhone app is free to play God. Not only does Dave have a flight of in-house bees to do their stuff in the greenhouse (who also live a charmed life as they enjoy a perfect, Dave- controlled climate with no predators) but he also has at his command a platoon of “beneficial insects” called Orius, or pirate bugs. These kill crop-destroying pests called thrips, and do so – weirdly in nature – not for food but for, well, fun. So unless you feel for thrips, or believe food should only be grown in God’s own soil and subject to God’s own pestilences, Sundrop produce seems to be pure and ethical enough to satisfy all but the most eco-fussy.
Sundrop’s founder and CEO, on the other hand, is not at first glance an ecowarrior poster child. True, there are plenty of posh boys dabbling in ethical and organic farming, but on paper, Philipp Saumweber could be a comedy all-purpose hate figure. He is a wealthy, Gordonstoun-educated German with a Harvard MBA, immaculate manners, an American accent, Teutonic efficiency and a career that’s taken him from hedge-fund management to Goldman Sachs to joining his family’s Munich-based agricultural investment business. But, in the typical way stereotypes can let you down, apart from being a thoroughly nice, softly spoken and clearly visionary man, Saumweber has also made a brilliant but ailing idea work, turning a charmingly British, Amstrad-like technology into the horticultural equivalent of Apple.
Soon after becoming immersed in agriculture as a business, he says, he realised that it essentially involved “turning diesel into food and adding water”. Whether you were a tree-hugger or a number cruncher, Saumweber reasoned, this was not good. “So I began to get interested in the idea of saline agriculture. Fresh water is so scarce, yet we’re almost drowning in seawater. I spent a lot of time in libraries researching it, Charlie Paton’s name kept coming up, and that’s what started things. He’d been working on the technology since 1991, was smart and although his approach was obviously home-grown and none of his pilot projects had really worked – in fact they’d all been scrapped – he had something too promising to ignore.”
Despite having given Paton a large, undisclosed ex- gratia settlement when Sundrop and Seawater divorced in February – a sum Paton still says he was very happy with – Saumweber continues to be gracious about his former business partner, and says he wishes he was still on board, as he is a better propagandist and salesman for this ultimate sustainable technology than anyone else he’s met.
“What we liked about Charlie’s idea, as did the engineers we got in to assess Seawater Greenhouse, is that it addressed the water issue doubly by proposing a greenhouse which made water in an elegant way and linked this to a system to use seawater to cool the greenhouse,” Saumweber recounts.
“What we didn’t realise at the start, and I don’t think Charlie ever adjusted to fully, was that even in arid regions, you get cold days and a greenhouse will need heating – hence the gas boiler, which cuts in to produce heat and electricity when it gets cold or cloudy, but which upset Charlie so much because it meant we weren’t 100% zero-energy any longer. What Charlie overlooked is that you can grow anything without heat and cooling, but it will be blemished and misshapen and will be rejected by the supermarkets. If you don’t match their standards, you’re not paid. It would be ideal if that weren’t the case, but we can’t take on the challenge of changing human behaviour.
“So in the end, we had very different views on where the business should go. He’d found the perfect platform to keep tinkering and experimenting, while we just wanted to get into production. He’s a very nice man and I share a lot of his eco views, but it wasn’t possible to stay together.”
When you visit the agreeable Paton family in Hackney it becomes clear the gas-boiler incident out in the desert was far from the whole reason for the fallout with Sundrop. There was also a serious clash of styles. Saumweber is a banker by training and lives in prosperous west London, while the Patons are artistic and live part of the time in a forest clearing in Sussex in a wooden house without electricity. Charlie, an amateur and a tinkerer at heart, a highly knowledgeable polymath rather than a scientist, is also a proud man, whose intense blue eyes burn when he discusses how his invention has, in his view, been debased by the ambitious young men and women who moved it on to the next level.
The difference was essentially political, an idealist/ pragmatist schism not unlike an old Labour/New Labour split. The Patons – Charlie, his wife, jeweller and art school teacher Marlene McKibbin, son Adam, 25, a design engineer and daughter Alice, 26, a fine art graduate – are a tight, highly principled bunch who gather almost every day for a family lunch, like a wholemeal and Palestinian organic olive oil version of the Ewings of Southfork Ranch.
The Seawater Greenhouse method, which they are still promoting actively, involves no desalination plant, no gleaming solar mirrors and little by way of anything electronic. Everything in the Seawater Greenhouse vision is low-tech, cheap to start up and reliant on the subtle, gentle interaction of evaporation and condensation of seawater with wind, both natural and artificial, blown by fans powered by solar panels. If things go wrong and production is disrupted by a glitch in this model, you just persuade people to eat perfectly good but odd-looking produce – or harvest less and stand firm by your sustainable principles.
Although the concept is attractive and the philosophy will chime with many a green consumer, the Seawater Greenhouse installation is less elegant. Dave Pratt, fresh to the team from growing tomatoes in Canada, almost went straight back when he saw the kit Adam and Alice Paton had painstakingly put together. “It was like a construction by the Beverly Hillbillies,” Pratt says. “They had these 15,000 hand-made plastic pipes meant to work as heat exchangers, but they just dripped seawater on the plants, which was disastrous.”
Paton’s perspective on things is, naturally, a little different. “I did have a falling-out with Philipp,” he says. “It was a joint venture, but we disagreed on a number of things. Being a cautious investor, he called in consultants and horticulturalists, and one said if you don’t put in a gas boiler you’re going to lose money and get poor produce. I was persuaded about the need for some heating, but it could have been supplied by solar panels. It wasn’t such a big deal, perhaps, but it was a syndrome that ran through everything we did. Philipp is the king of the spreadsheet, and trying to make the numbers go black meant he just rushed everything. I’m all for the thing being profitable, but there are levels of greed I found a bit, well, not quite right. I wish him well, though, and if it’s fabulously successful, then fine.”
What next for the Patons, then? “Well, the settlement we got was enough to carry on fiddling about for some time. We’re excited about getting a new project going in Cape Verde [the island republic in the mid-Atlantic], where they produce no food at all and they seem interested. And we have talked about a project in Somaliland [the unofficial breakaway part of Somalia], but that would be difficult as there’s not even a hotel to stay in.”
Charlie Paton, although the acknowledged founder of the idea of growing unlimited food in impossible conditions, seems almost destined to join a British tradition of hobbyist geniuses who change the world working from garden sheds and workshops, but, because they aren’t commercial, and perhaps rather eschew professionalism, miss out on the final mile and the big payday.
“We will absolutely keep on at this in our own way,” he says, “but I don’t really feel that proprietary about it. The heart of the technology is actually a bit of soggy cardboard. You can’t patent or protect the idea of evaporative cooling. The idea of using seawater to do that absolutely was a major breakthrough, but again, you can’t patent it. The main thing is that it’s us that’s still picking up the plaudits, and I think that makes Philipp really angry.”
Al JazerraFault Lines: Fracking in America
With the US looking to ease its reliance on foreign oil, Fault Lines investigates the impact of natural gas extraction.
For years now, the United States has tried to lower its dependence on foreign oil for its energy needs.
With stability in the Middle East in question, drilling at home has never been more attractive. But it often comes at a cost.
Natural gas extraction - fracking - is being touted as the answer. But questions are being asked about the process and its implications.
Click to watch this documentary film: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/faultlines/2012/11/201211211093664397.html
November 25, 2012
With Ban on Drilling Practice, Town Lands in Thick of Dispute
By JACK HEALY
LONGMONT, Colo. — This old farming town near the base of the Rocky Mountains has long been considered a conservative next-door neighbor to the ultraliberal college town of Boulder, a place bisected by the railroad and where middle-class families found a living at the vegetable cannery, sugar mill and Butterball turkey plant.
But this month, Longmont became the first town in Colorado to outlaw hydraulic fracturing, the oil-drilling practice commonly known as fracking. The ban has propelled Longmont to the fiercely contested forefront of the nation’s antifracking movement, inspiring other cities to push for similar prohibitions.
But it has also set the city on a collision course with oil companies and the State of Colorado.
“People really didn’t think through this too well,” Mayor Dennis L. Coombs said, sounding weary at the prospect of an onslaught of lawsuits. “We are where we are. I guess you have to respect the people.”
In a way, Longmont’s fracking ban is in a position similar to Colorado’s ballot measure legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Both are lessons in the promise and peril of populism: both initiatives sailed through on Election Day despite opposition from the authorities, and both now face legal scrutiny and fights at all levels of government.
Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has warned Longmont residents that the ban is likely to mean a lawsuit from the state, which insists that only it has the authority to regulate drilling. Already this summer, Colorado sued Longmont over earlier city rules that limit drilling near schools and homes.
Local leaders are also bracing for more lawsuits as they tell energy companies they can no longer frack their wells — a process that involves injecting thousands of gallons of pressurized water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth to fissure the rock and extract the oil and gas locked inside.
The ban does not outlaw all drilling, only the specific practice of hydraulic fracturing within the city limits, as well as the storage and disposal of waste created by the process.
“We’re going contrary to state laws,” said Bill Swenson, one of seven former mayors of Longmont who fought the ban. “We are, in effect, taking your property.”
Fracking has allowed drillers to unlock huge new reservoirs of oil and natural gas over the past few years, and has kick-started economies from North Dakota to western Pennsylvania to here in northern Colorado. The industry says the practice is environmentally safe, but opponents have raised concerns about water contamination and air pollution while objecting to islands of well pads and forests of drilling towers in their communities.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the main lobbying group for the energy industry here, criticized the ban as confrontational and encroaching on the private property of companies that have rights to oil and gas buried deep beneath Longmont’s streets, parks and reservoirs.
“Are the taxpayers of Longmont prepared to provide fair compensation to all of the oil and gas lease holders in Longmont?” said Tisha Schuller, the group’s president.
Supporters of the ban call it a “citizen uprising” against a rush of drilling that has spread like brush fire through towns across the plains of northern Colorado.
In nearby Firestone, wells sit within a few hundred feet of libraries, schools and subdivisions. In Greeley, herds of tanker trucks line up at city fire hydrants at dawn to load water for fracking. Earlier this year, a federal scientist reported finding elevated levels of propane and benzene in the air around Erie. City officials and environmental advocates have even led fracking tours of communities where drilling is at its peak.
When people learned of plans to sink wells in Longmont near the Union Reservoir and a playground and recreational area on the east end of town, a response began to coalesce: not here. Supporters said the state’s decision to sue over Longmont’s regulations stiffened their resolve.
At the start, the ban seemed like a doomed idea.
The energy industry poured money and resources into fighting it, raising more than $500,000 to send out mailers and buy advertisements saying the ban would drive away businesses and incite expensive court battles. The major newspapers in Denver, Boulder and Longmont all urged voters to reject the proposal.
“I had no idea we could upset an entire state government and a trillion-dollar industry,” said Michael Bellmont, an insurance agent who helped gather thousands of signatures and knocked on doors to persuade voters.
Advocates of the ban focused less on climate change and environmental concerns than on hitting voters where they lived: Do you want oil wells venting near your backyard? Do you want drilling near your schools?
The industry said the arguments were based on fear-mongering, deception and antifracking hysteria, but they resonated with voters. The ban passed 60 percent to 40 percent, with broad bipartisan support.
One recent afternoon, a few supporters who helped get the ban passed drove through town to visit some of the “red sites” — areas that had been leased for drilling, or could be in the future. They drove past public parks, open spaces and golf courses and stopped at the Union Reservoir, still and limpid under a cloudy sky.
“There’s a swim beach, there’s sailing, and there will be eight well pads,” said Kaye Fissinger, a supporter of the ban, pointing out potential drilling sites in the distance. “You come out here to relax. You don’t come out here to have your air polluted.”
Scientists warn world’s poorest countries increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters
By Mark Tran, The Guardian
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:19 EST
Sir John Beddington says governments must act in face of climate change, more older people and rapid urbanisation
Ageing populations and urbanisation could leave the world’s poorest countries increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters, the UK’s chief scientific adviser warned on Tuesday.
“Vulnerability will go soaring,” said Sir John Beddington. “Extreme events will happen every five years instead of every 20. Vulnerability will come from changing climate, demography and most people living in cities.”
Sir John spoke after the release of a government report, Reducing risks of future disaster, which calls for risk reduction to be routinely built into urban infrastructure, ecosystem protection and mobile telephone regulation, for example. Such measures would help reduce the cost of disasters, which has outstripped international aid over the past 20 years and led to the loss of 1.3 million lives and caused $2 trillion of damage.
Between 2010 and 2040, the number of people over 65 in less developed countries is projected to nearly triple, from 325 million to 948 million. In emergencies, older people are a vulnerable group, although they may have skills and experience that enable them to cope.
Eight out of the 10 most populous cities in the world are at risk of being severely affected by an earthquake, and six out of 10 are vulnerable to storm surge and tsunami waves. The urban population in developing countries is projected to rise by 65 million a year from 2.6 billion in 2010 to around 4.7 billion in 2040.
“The speed of urbanisation in developing countries means that the future vulnerability and exposure of cities will be disproportionately important. Urban design and planning that both improves the quality of life for residents and makes expanding cities resilient to natural hazards is therefore a key priority,” said the report.
Earthquakes in megacities pose a major threat, as does flooding for many cities in coastal areas. Despite advances in forecasting, preparing for earthquakes will be a challenge as both their timing and severity are difficult to forecast.
Nevertheless, scientific advances in the understanding of natural disasters can be expected to continue in the next decades. How fast and how far such improvements will take place is uncertain, said the report, but if progress continues at the current rate, there will be increasingly reliable forecasts identifying the timing and location of some future natural hazards.
“Together progress in these areas will improve the forecasting of disaster risk and provide opportunities for effective disaster risk reduction, provided that those who need to take action have ready access to the information,” said the report.
It recommended governments emulate the approach of the insurance industry in using science-based risk models to take a wide range of data from a wide range of sources to calculate where risks come from and what weight to put on them.
“Natural disasters hit those in the developing world particularly hard. But the developed world is not immune, as we saw with Hurricane Sandy in the US and the Caribbean last month,” said Justine Greening, the secretary for international development. “Resilience is about boosting a country’s ability to deal with disasters – whether it is helping people in earthquake zones build to withstand shocks or helping poor farmers to grow drought-resistant crops. Reducing the impact of natural disasters saves money, lives and livelihoods, especially in developing countries.”
Only 1% of overseas development aid was spent on disaster risk reduction from 2000 to 2009. The report is part of the government’s response to Lord Ashdown’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Review commissioned by the Department for International Development, released last year.
© Guardian News and Media 2012
Kyoto battlelines drawn as Doha climate talks dig into detail
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:13 EST
Climate talks got down to the nitty-gritty in Doha on Tuesday as developing countries and the European Union (EU) staked out rival positions on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol.
Separately, the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) urged negotiators to heed the risk from melting permafrost, which could spew billions of tonnes of greenhouses gases into the air and accelerate global warming at a stroke.
Pressing on the key issue at the 12-day annual parlay which began on Monday, poorer countries called on the EU to shore up the Kyoto Protocol, a beleaguered and contested treaty on climate change.
“Together we face a man-made disaster of epic proportions,” said Marlene Moses of the Pacific island of Nauru, heading the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) which are vulnerable to rising seas.
“The Kyoto Protocol must not be an exercise in creative accounting or a public relations exercise,” Moses said.
“Commitments must be real, and must deliver effective (carbon) emissions reductions.”
The talks are taking place under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an arena set up 20 years ago at the Earth Summit.
Heading the agenda in Qatar is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s sole binding pact for curbing carbon emissions.
The protocol, whose first commitment period runs out on December 31, currently commits about 40 rich nations and the EU to an average five percent greenhouse gas reduction from 1990 levels.
Developing countries say Kyoto is vital for meeting the UN’s target of pegging global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal that on current trends will be dramatically missed.
Critics, though, say Kyoto is ineffective, as China and the US, the world’s No. 1 and 2 carbon emitters, are not included in the binding targets.
Securing a second round of Kyoto pledges would clear a major hurdle towards a wider, global treaty that would be sealed in 2015 and take effect in 2020.
But delegation statements on Tuesday highlighted differences over how long the next commitment period should last and how big the carbon cuts should be.
Moses said the post-2012 commitment period should run for five years and rich parties should present “ambitious targets that are consistent with the challenge.”
The five-year timescale was also backed by the bloc of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), comprising the poorest economies.
“The Kyoto Protocol remains the cornerstone of the international climate regime,” said China, speaking for the so-called BASIC group, which also includes Brazil, India and South Africa.
“We urge developed country parties to Kyoto Protocol to raise their level of ambition in Doha, consistent with what is required by the science and their historical responsibility.”
But the EU stood by an eight-year commitment period and — in a veiled appeal to the emerging giants to do more — said the period should be seen “as a floor, not as a ceiling.”
The 27-nation EU has unilaterally promised to scale back emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, and extend this to 30 percent if other major polluters follow suit.
No-one, though, has taken up the offer.
Along with the EU, Australia and some small Kyoto parties have said they would take on commitments in a second period, but New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Russia will not.
The United States, historically the world’s biggest carbon emitter, signed Kyoto as a framework agreement in 1997, but refused to ratify it after its rulebook had been agreed.
Meanwhile, a report by UNEP warned that climate talks had to factor in the threat from melting permafrost, where vast quantities of carbon gases, from vegetation that died millions of years ago, are locked up in ice.
“Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems and infrastructure has been neglected for too long,” warned UNEP excutive director Achim Steiner.
Warming permafrost could emit 43-135 billion tonnes of carbon by 2100 and 246-415 billion tonnes by 2200, the study said.
11/26/2012 06:01 PM
Failed CO2 Targets: Going Through the Motions in Doha
The United Nations Climate Change Conference beginning in Doha this week is turning into a farce. While negotiators are sticking to the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, even climatologists admit that the project has failed.
Protecting the climate is incredibly important to Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, as evidenced by all the resolutions it has adopted in the past to save the planet. Germany has climate funds and reduction targets, building and transportation programs, and even an entire strategy to wean itself off nuclear power and shift to green energy, which has been dubbed the Energiewende, or "energy revolution." But at some point there is such a thing as overkill.
Can a member of parliament be expected to be chauffeured around Berlin in a small car? Or should he even stoop to the level of taking a cab? Now that, the Bundestag recently decided, would be asking too much. But because the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the elegant limousines normally used to chauffeur German lawmakers exceeds standards set three years ago, the Bundestag came up with a convenient solution. They simply raised the previously established limit of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometer to 140.
And what about the fact that the European Commission in Brussels has been fighting for months to set the limit at 95 grams? Forget it! And the climate? Oh, that again.
Only a few years ago, lawmakers would have hardly dared raise the limits for allowable greenhouse gas emissions coming from their official cars. They would have been too worried about upsetting climate activists and triggering outraged editorials in the papers.
But things have changed, so much so that the Bundestag's decision hardly attracted any notice in the press, and neither did the government's decision to eliminate a rule requiring official trips to be climate-neutral. As mundane as these decisions seem, they symbolize a significant failure, namely that no issue of global urgency has tanked quite as quickly as the warming of the earth's climate.
A Bizarre Ritual
What was seen as a question of man's survival not too long ago is little more than a side note today. Even forest dieback, the great bugaboo of the 1980s, did not suffer a comparable plunge into irrelevance.
This only amplifies the bizarrely ritualistic nature of the Climate Change Conference starting this week in Doha, Qatar. Thousands of negotiators, environmentalists and industry lobbyists are meeting in the Arab emirate to set the course for an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
But the world has already turned its back on the issue. And if that weren't unnerving enough, the attendees from 195 countries will be debating a project that everyone suspects is no longer achievable: the 2-degree target.
It remains a mantra for saving the climate that the earth's temperature curve cannot be allowed to climb any further than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Climatologists have calculated how much carbon dioxide emissions from cars, chimneys and fields can increase without jeopardizing the 2-degree target. If we fail in this mission, at least according to their computer models, life on the planet will become intolerable.
But a look at their calculations reveals that limiting the earth's warming to 2 degrees Celsius is no longer realistic. Our thirst for energy is too enormous and our efforts to wean ourselves off fossil fuels have been too insignificant.
Instead of declining, emissions continue to rise year after year. If nothing changes, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) predicted last week, global carbon emissions will increase to about 58 gigatons by 2020 -- much more than the 44 gigatons necessary to adhere to the 2-degree target.
According to the 2011 World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), global fossil fuel subsidies jumped 30 percent to $523 billion (€403 billion) last year. Although countries are spending more and more on renewable energy, subsidies for coal, oil and gas are still six times as high. About 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are planned worldwide, and even Germany generated more electricity from coal in the first nine months of this year than it has in a long time.
Unwilling to Admit Defeat
In times of crisis, burning fossil fuels helps industry, while the climate must wait. According to a study by the research institute Oxford Economics, almost all key producers of greenhouse gas are spending decreasing amounts on saving the planet. Crisis-ridden Spain plans to cut €3.8 billion ($4.9 billion) from its climate protection budget by 2015, Great Britain will reduce spending by €3.1 billion, and even Germany is cutting climate-related spending by €1.5 billion. When ranked by how much it spends on climate protection as a percentage of total spending, the United States comes in last.
Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist in Paris, isn't the only one who sees the 2-degree target as a "nice utopia" -- well-intentioned, but unfortunately totally unrealistic.
But hardly anyone is about to admit it. Climate activists won't admit it, because they're afraid that without strict targets, no government can be compelled to reduce emissions. And neither will politicians in Germany and Europe, because they're the ones who injected the 2-degree target into the global debate in the first place. "If we don't reach the target, it will get a lot more expensive for many of us than we can imagine today," warns European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard.
That's why Jochem Marotzke, director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, is being courageous when he says: "Although physically speaking it is still possible to reach the 2-degree target, it seems to me that it's hardly feasible politically." He thinks it's more realistic to limit global warming to 3 degrees Celsius. "Even that, of course, would be associated with massive efforts worldwide," he adds.
Marotzke knows what he is talking about. He is the chairman of the German Climate Consortium and one of Germany's top climatologists. He has had the computers at his institute calculate what would be necessary to comply with the 2-degree target: Worldwide CO2 emissions would have to consistently decline by 1 percent a year, starting in 2020, to end up at almost zero by the end of the century.
That would require a carbon-free global economy, in which no more oil or gas is burned anywhere on the planet, and in which all cars operate without fossil fuel and aircraft fly without kerosene. Is this realistic? Marotzke doesn't think so. "In general, this raises the issue of whether it's good policy to proclaim unachievable goals," he says.
But his voice will probably remain unheard in Doha. The countries will still talk about the 2-degree target, but they will hardly follow their talk with action. On the contrary, while Europe's crisis-ridden countries are rediscovering classic industrial policy, emerging economies like China and India are turning into emissions giants.
China, for example, is responsible for 29 percent of worldwide, energy-related CO2 emissions, and it's also the world's biggest air polluter. But the leadership in Beijing doesn't like this superlative, preferring to cite a different number, which shows that per capita, the 1.4 billion Chinese are responsible for only a fraction of what Americans and most Europeans emit.
Whatever a climate compromise looks like in the end, it will have to be characterized by "fairness, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," said Xie Zhenhua, the head of Beijing's delegation, when he presented his strategy for the Doha climate conference last Wednesday. What he meant was that emissions reductions are ok, but everyone else should start first.
The Indians hold the same view. Although their delegation fundamentally voted for a reduction in greenhouse gases at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban last year, India has a price for that, which it will also present to the European Union in Doha: financial assistance and the transfer of environmental technology.
The United States also has other priorities. At the first press conference after his reelection, President Barack Obama fundamentally acknowledged the importance of climate protection. But then he promptly added that this could not get in the way of the anticipated economic recovery. "Jobs and growth" are Americans' biggest concern, said the president. "If the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that," he added.
For many years, at least the citizens of the EU could feel good about playing in the league of climate rescuers. At a number of UN conferences, the EU pushed forward with ambitious goals.
Of course, little of that will be in evidence in Doha. Originally, the EU had planned to commit itself to considerably tougher reduction targets for greenhouse gas. But Poland, a significant coal producer, was the first to thwart the plan. European Commissioner Hedegaard now admits that it is no longer feasible in the short term.
'Far Too Little Is Happening'
The UN's most important tool in the fight against climate change, emissions trading, has turned into a problem child instead. Recently the price of a ton of carbon dioxide sporadically fell below €7 -- a joke for the managers of many a major company. The head of the German Federal Environment Agency, Jochen Flasbarth, vacillates between despair and resignation: "I don't see that anyone within the EU is noticeably applying pressure or proposing any good solutions."
This wasn't always the case. But Germany, once a trailblazer, has too many other problems at the moment. Although the country is attracting a lot of attention worldwide with its Energiewende experiment, politicians and environmental groups doubt that the climate is the government's main motivation. "For now, the Energiewende is really just a power generation turnaround," says Merkel's fellow Christian Democrat Klaus Töpfer, a former environment minister. "If we don't want to question our climate goals, we do have to address the issues of warming, mobility and energy efficiency just as resolutely. Far too little is happening in this regard."
In fact, Economics Minister Philipp Rösler, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), has successfully blocked his own government's climate policy goals for months. On Friday, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) looked visibly miffed when he told the press: "I would like to see Germany hold onto its pioneering role in climate protection." He defiantly announced the revival of emissions trading, but Rösler promptly contradicted him, saying that he would not go along with further burdens on industry.
The federal government was already expecting emissions trading to generate at least €2 billion in revenue for its Special Energy and Climate Fund in 2013. According to internal Finance Ministry calculations, that number will likely decline by €750 million -- money that will no longer be available for domestic and international climate protection projects. This upsets Altmaier, who is traveling empty-handed to Doha, where he is already scheduled to spend only two days. So far he has waited in vain for support from Merkel in his dispute with Rösler. That too speaks volumes, says Green Party climate policy expert Hermann Ott. "There's nothing left of Angela Merkel the self-proclaimed climate chancellor."
More Practical Solutions Needed
Despite all this, no politician in Germany, touted as a model country on environmental matters, is willing to back away from the 2-degree target. "It's about saving face," says Oliver Geden, a climate expert with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. That's why the Germans are resorting to methods that auditors would probably characterize as an accounting trick.
This is how the trick works: You allow temperatures to shoot up by more than 2 degrees Celsius at around the middle of the century. Then you reduce greenhouse gas emissions to such an extent that the planet's temperature curve falls below the magic limit of 2 degrees above current levels by 2100. Practically speaking, no climatologist will be alive to experience that day, which makes it easy to reach such a resolution, which insiders refer to as "overshooting."
Climatologists are also discussing ideas to filter greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere or to cool the planet artificially. One idea that was seriously considered was to blow sulfur dioxide through 25-kilometer (16-mile) tubes into the stratosphere, where it would reflect sunlight. In July, a US entrepreneur dumped 100 tons of iron sulfate into waters off the Canadian island of Haida Gwaii, in the misguided hope that global warming could be stopped by artificially accelerating algae growth.
Instead of science fiction, climate expert Geden prefers to call for realpolitik. "The 2-degree target has to be dropped as soon as possible," says the policy advisor, noting that a phantom discussion merely blurs our ability to recognize pragmatic solutions.
It would be more intelligent for cities and industrial sectors to join forces, and for countries to form alliances to develop climate-friendly technology. This would be better for the planet than producing yet another stack of draft resolutions, Geden says.
At least climate policy experts have chosen the ideal backdrop for their washout in Doha. The host country Qatar is the global leader on one climate issue: The oil sheikdom on the Persian Gulf has the world's highest per-capital emissions of CO2.
BY JÖRG SCHINDLER, GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ, OLAF STAMPF, GERALD TRAUFETTER, WIELAND WAGNER AND BERNHARD ZAND
11/26/2012 05:55 PM
Waiting for Obama: Hope Not Enough in Battle against Climate Change
A Commentary by Oliver Geden
In the search for a negotiated agreement to combat global climate change, US domestic politics play an outsized role. But even if President Barack Obama unexpectedly pushes emissions reduction legislation through Congress, the resulting treaty would still have to be ratified. Such a process would take too much time -- and it is time we don't have.
Two decades after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, international climate policy remains an unfulfilled promise. Since the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen by one-third. In light of these sobering figures, it is astonishing to find that the principle of hope still prevails in climate policy.
At last year's climate summit in Durban, 194 states once again agreed to make everything better in the future. Europeans succeeded in pushing through a schedule for negotiations intended ultimately to produce a comprehensive and ambitious world climate agreement. The Durban declarations envisaged the adoption of a global climate treaty by the end of 2015 and its entry into force in 2020. It would include reduction targets for countries that had previously blocked international climate protection agreements, such as India, China, and the USA, and a 2 degree Celsius limit on the global temperature increase. But at the beginning of the 2012 climate summit in Doha/Qatar, it is already clear that this plan will fail.
One of the most serious weaknesses of the negotiation process is the overdependence on US domestic politics. Despite President Barack Obama's re-election, fundamental change is not about to come. The president is likely to maintain his previous position: that the US will only be able to commit to emissions reductions in the UN context after the level of these commitments has been set down in national climate legislation. In 2010, an attempt to pass such a law failed despite a comfortable Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress.
Waiting in Vain
At the present moment, it is almost inconceivable that a renewed legislative effort could achieve a successful outcome. Despite losing the presidential election, Republicans defended their majority in the House of Representatives. And the issue of climate change remains one of the major dividing lines in US politics, a constellation largely unaffected by Hurricane Sandy. But even if the US government should, contrary to all expectations, agree to a comprehensive global treaty in 2015, the world would still be faced with a ratification marathon that would last at least five years. And at that point, if a two-thirds majority cannot be reached to ratify the agreement in the US Senate, all the waiting will have been in vain.
Even under the optimistic assumptions that a comprehensive global climate treaty can be concluded and ratified by 2020 and that the signatory states will feel bound to comply with it over the long term, the central objective of international climate policy is still destined to fail. Limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius would already require decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent over the next eight years, before having to implement even more dramatic reductions in 2020 and adhere to them consistently for decades.
The current trend in global emissions points in the opposite direction. And the current negotiation roadmap is not creating incentives for emissions reductions. While waiting for UN summits to produce a "grand solution", many governments and companies will use the absence of a global treaty as a convenient excuse to justify their lack of ambition. Should the decisive world climate conference in 2015 fail, then political consequences will be far-reaching. Willingness to pursue global cooperation will decline drastically. Merely adapting to the inevitable could become the dominant strategy. The US and China would be encouraged to focus on methods of technical climate manipulation, the approach of geo-engineering.
Dubious Hopes of an Epochal Breakthrough
Europe cannot have any interest in this outcome, since it would mean losing its edge in the development of low-emissions technologies. It would therefore be very risky to tie the EU's climate policy to dubious hopes of an epochal breakthrough in international climate negotiations.
What is needed now is a new sense of pragmatism. Europeans are faced, first and foremost, with the practical task of demonstrating that a de-carbonization strategy is indeed technologically and economically feasible under present-day conditions and that this can be beneficial not only for climate protection but for energy security as well. Second, they will have to focus their efforts internationally on designing a much more flexible climate policy architecture. Where global agreements cannot be achieved, European countries should aspire to "coalitions of the committed" and sector-specific agreements with as many participants, incentives, and sanctions as needed to achieve concrete gains.
The major argument against pragmatic approaches in climate policy is that they are inadequate to address the severe future consequences of climate change, that they lack in vision and that they fail to acknowledge the UN's central role. All these arguments are ultimately rooted in the narrow pursuit of an "optimal" solution to the problem. After two decades of largely unsuccessful climate negotiations, it is time to think about alternative paths. In limiting climate change, it is not the conceptual elegance of the political approach that will be decisive. The focus must be on achieving measurable progress in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Coastal cities in danger as sea levels rise faster than expected
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 20:48 EST
Sea-level rise is occurring much faster than scientists expected – exposing millions more Americans to the destructive floods produced by future Sandy-like storms, new research suggests.
Satellite measurements over the last two decades found global sea levels rising 60% faster than the computer projections issued only a few years ago by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The faster sea-level rise means the authorities will have to take even more ambitious measures to protect low-lying population centres – such as New York City, Los Angeles or Jacksonville, Florida – or risk exposing millions more people to a destructive combination of storm surges on top of sea-level rise, scientists said.
Scientists earlier this year found sea-level rise had already doubled the annual risk of historic flooding across a widespread area of the United States.
The latest research, published on Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, found global sea-levels rising at a rate of 3.2mm a year, compared to the best estimates by the IPCC of 2mm a year, or 60% faster.
Researchers used satellite data to measure sea-level rise from 1993-2011. Satellites are much more accurate than tide gauges, the study said.
The scientists said they had ruled out other non-climatic causes for the rise in water levels – and that their study demonstrated that researchers had under-estimated the effects of climate change.
“Generally people are coming around to the opinion that this is going to be far worse than the IPCC projections indicate,” said Grant Foster, a US-based mathematician who worked on the paper with German climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf.
The implications are serious – especially for coastal areas of the US. Large portions of America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts are regarded as “hotspots” for sea-level rise, with water levels increasing at twice the rate of most other places on the planet.
Scientists previously had expected a global sea-level rise of 1m by the end of the century. “But I would say that if you took a poll among the real experts these days probably they would say that a more realistic figure would be more than that,” Foster said.
“The study indicates that this is going to be as bad or worse than the worst case scenarios of the IPCC so whatever you were planning from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod in terms of how you were preparing for sea-level rise – if you thought you had enough defences in place, you probably need more,” Foster said.
A study published last March by Climate Central found sea-level rise due to global warming had already doubled the risk of extreme flood events – so-called once in a century floods – for dozens of locations up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
It singled out the California cities of Los Angeles and San Diego on the Pacific coast and Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia, on the Atlantic, as the most vulnerable to historic flooding due to sea-level rise.
Sandy, which produced a 9ft storm surge at Battery Park in New York City, produced one example of the dangerous combination of storm surges and rising sea level. In New York, each additional foot of water puts up to 100,000 additional people at risk, according to a map published with the study.
But tens of millions of people are potentially at risk across the country. The same report noted that more than half of the population, in some 285 US cities and towns, lived less than 1m above the high tide mark.
“In some places it takes only a few inches of sea-level rise to convert a once in a century storm to a once in a decade storm,” said Ben Strauss, who directs the sea-level rise programme at Climate Central.
Large swathes of the mid-Atlantic coast, from Virginia through New Jersey, also faced elevated risk of severe flooding, because of climate change, he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012