EU rejects study linking genetically modified corn to cancer
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 12:15 EST
The EU’s food safety agency definitively rejected Wednesday a bombshell French report linking genetically modified corn to cancer, saying it failed to meet “acceptable scientific standards.”
“Serious defects in the design and methodology of a paper by Seralini et al. mean it does not meet acceptable scientific standards,” the European Food Safety Authority said in a statement.
“Consequently it is not possible to draw valid conclusions about the occurrence of tumours in the rats tested,” the agency said.
EFSA, which reviews the use and authorisation of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), added that it “finds there is no need to re-examine its previous safety evaluations of NK603,” the genetically modified maize developed by US agribusiness giant Monsanto.
That same conclusion had been reached in separate and independent assessments of Gilles-Eric Seralini’s work carried out in six European Union nations, the agency added.
Seralini’s research team at France’s University of Caen issued a report in September concluding that rats fed on NK603 corn, or exposed to one of Monsanto’s weedkillers used with the corn strain, and containing glyphosate, developed tumours.
The study’s conclusions, illustrated by horrific images of cancer-ridden rats, caused worldwide alarm.
NK603 is resistant to the Monsanto herbicide Roundup, enabling farmers to use the weedkiller just once in the crop’s life-cycle and make substantial savings.
Seralini and his team said their experiment in GM food was the first to follow rats through their lifespan, as opposed to just 90 days.
But many experts quickly questioned its methodology, results and relevance to humans.
The EU agency said its final assessment took into consideration evaluations carried out in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
“EFSA noted the emergence of a broad European consensus,” it said, stating that the six countries too found Seralini’s conclusions “were not supported by the data presented in the study.”
It listed weaknesses of the French study as “unclear study objectives, the low number of rates used in each treatment group, a lack of detail on the feed and treatment formulation, key information missing on the statistical methods employed.”
In a first response last month, EFSA dubbed Seralini’s study “inadequate” and urged him to provide additional information before a second, final review was completed.
But the scientist responded that he would not give EFSA additional information until it first detailed the basis of its own assessment.
“It is absolutely scandalous that (EFSA) keeps secret the information on which they based their evaluation” of NK603 and the pesticide, he said at the time.
“In any event, we will not give them anything. We will put the information in the public domain when they do,” Seralini told AFP.
His research group, Criigen, this month issued a list of almost 200 scientists from more than 30 countries who back the study.
Definitive study links polar ice cap melting to climate change
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 29, 2012 16:32 EST
The melting of polar ice caps raised sea levels by nearly half an inch (11 millimeters) over the last two decades, scientists said Thursday, calling it the most definitive measure yet of the impact of climate change.
There have been more than 30 previous estimates of whether and how much the ice caps are shrinking. But the numbers were often vague, with wide ranges, and different studies sometimes contradicted each other, the researchers said.
The new study, out Friday in the US journal “Science,” combines data from ten different satellites since 1992, carefully matching up time periods and geographical locations so as to make a more accurate and wider-ranging assessment.
“Changes in the mass of ice stored within the polar ice sheets are important because they’re a measure of changes in global climate and they directly affect global sea levels,” said lead researcher Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds, in England.
Using the combined data, the international team of 47 scientists was able to determine that Antarctica and Greenland have contributed to just over 11 millimeters of sea level rise since 1992, or a fifth of the total.
“Crucially this improved certainty allows us to say that both have been losing ice,” Shepherd told reporters during a telephone conference call on Wednesday.
Indeed, according to their analysis, Greenland is losing ice faster than before, added co-author Erik Ivins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“If we compare data from the 1990s to those over the last decade, it would appear as though Greenland is losing mass at about five times the rate today as it was in the early 1990s,” he explained.
Additionally, the new analysis showed that ice in Antarctica is shrinking overall, but more slowly than some reports have suggested.
“West Antarctica is losing quite a bit of mass,” Ivins explained, though he noted that there is some compensation going on by gain in east Antarctica.
The researchers called their study a snapshot of the past twenty years, saying it can serve to increase understanding of what has already happened but does not provide predictions of what is yet to come.
Co-researcher Ian Joughin added that “the study demonstrates we need to not just make snapshots but sustained measurements, through a coordinated effort,” over the next 20 years.
A separate study Wednesday reported that sea levels are rising 60 percent faster than the UN’s climate panel forecast in its most recent assessment.
A trio of specialists reported in the journal “Environmental Research Letters” that sea levels are increasing at an average of 3.2 millimeters (0.125 inch) per year, compared to the 2 mm (0.078 inch) predicted by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In addition to the melting of polar ice caps, sea levels are rising because warmer temperatures causes water to expand.
The Christian Science Monitor
GOP-backed bill is most serious attack on America's Wilderness Act in history
By Stewart Brandborg
posted November 30, 2012 at 9:21 am EST
The Wilderness Act has protected America’s wild lands for 50 years. It is now under threat by a House bill deceptively called The Sportsmen's Heritage Act. Citizens must demand the US Senate do nothing to advance its devastating provisions.
Conservationists and wilderness enthusiasts across America are mobilizing to defeat a bill passed by the House of Representatives in April that would eviscerate the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Deceptively entitled the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, the bill (H.R. 4089) purports to protect hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. The bill is being pushed by powerful groups like the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International and supported by some of the most anti-wilderness Republicans in Congress. And it would effectively gut the Wilderness Act and protections for every wilderness in America's 110-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System – everywhere from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness along the Montana-Idaho border that I can see from my home.
The House bill's provisions could still become law during the current lame-duck session of Congress. Though the Senate is considering a different sportsmen’s bill that does not include the harmful elements, the Senate bill could eventually be merged with the devastating House bill in order to pass both chambers.
The Wilderness Act eloquently defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The statute further designates wilderness as an area that retains “its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation” and is “protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”
I know the Wilderness Act. I worked alongside my mentor, Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society (the bill’s chief author and proponent), from 1956-1964 to gain its passage by Congress. After Zahniser’s untimely passing in 1964, I directed the Wilderness Society for the next 12 years in implementing the new law and in adding new areas to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Congress responded to requests from the American people by adding tens of millions of acres to the wilderness system. Today, that system has grown from the original 9 million acres in 1964 to nearly 110 million acres. The Wilderness Act provides the best and most protective standards of all types of federal public land protection.
But this great legacy of American Wilderness is essentially destroyed by H.R. 4089 in several key ways.
First, H.R. 4089 elevates hunting, fishing, shooting, and wildlife management above wilderness protection within designated wilderness areas. Visitors or wildlife managers could drive motor vehicles and build roads, cabins, dams, hunting blinds, aircraft landing strips, and much more in wildernesses if any of these activities could be rationalized as facilitating opportunities for hunting, fishing, shooting, or managing fish and wildlife.
The only limitation in H.R. 4089 on motor vehicles or development is that the activity must be related to hunting, fishing, shooting, or wildlife management, though that need not be its only or even primary use. In reality, almost any recreational or management activity could be shoehorned into one of these exceptions and thereby exempted from Wilderness Act safeguards.
Perhaps even more troubling, H.R. 4089 would waive protections imposed by the Wilderness Act for anything undertaken in the name of wildlife management or for providing recreational opportunities related to wildlife. This would allow endless manipulations of wildlife and habitat.
This could include logging, if done to stimulate new forest growth on which deer might graze. Similarly, bulldozing new dams and reservoirs could be validated as a way to enhance fishing habitats. Poisoning lakes and streams to kill native fish and then planting exotic fish might be allowed under the guise of increasing fishing opportunities. And predator control (including aerial gunning and poisoning) could be defended for boosting the numbers of popular hunted species like elk or bighorn sheep that predators also eat.
There is no limit to what managers could do in designated wilderness areas all in the name of wildlife management or providing opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting. These provisions strike at the heart of the Wilderness Act and its foundational underpinnings to preserve wilderness untrammeled and native wildlife in its natural environment.
Sportsmen and sportswomen – those who hunt and fish – were, and continue to be among the strongest supporters of the original wilderness law, of designating wilderness lands, and of the special quality of fishing and hunting experiences that wild and undeveloped lands provide. Many of these folks are fighting to prevent eviscerating the law and its wilderness preservation safeguards.
For nearly a half-century, the Wilderness Act has protected the finest of America’s wild lands and created a National Wilderness Preservation System that is the envy of much of the world. H.R. 4089 would negate all that we have preserved. In my 60 years of work for wilderness preservation and management, our nation has never been threatened by a more serious attack on this irreplaceable publicly owned resource. Citizens must demand that the US Senate do nothing to advance the House provisions of the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act and instead protect our grand wilderness legacy for future generations.
Stewart Brandborg is a wildlife biologist, former executive director of the Wilderness Society, and a long-time board member of and now senior adviser to Wilderness Watch.
Government announces opening of Atlantic coast for offshore wind farms
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Saturday, December 1, 2012 12:01 EST
Department of the interior will offer lease sales on areas off coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia
The Obama administration has for the first time opened up large areas off the Atlantic Coast for offshore wind farms.
The department of the interior said it was proposing to offer competitive lease sales on some 278,000 acres, or about 432 square miles, off the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia. The sale is expected to go ahead in the first half of 2013.
“Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,” the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said in a statement.
If any turbines do actually go up, they would constitute the first offshore wind projects in the US. Over the last few years vast wind farms, with hundreds of turbines, have been built across the country – although wind power still makes up only 3% of energy use. However, the wind industry is expected to slow down or even come to a halt at the end of the year, with the expiry of tax credits.
There is a lot of wind off America’s Atlantic Coast – enough to power some 1.4 million homes, according to the US government. But building turbines offshore costs far more than building them on land. It has also proven controversial.
The first offshore project, Cape Wind, a 130-turbine farm in Nantucket Sound, ran into fierce opposition from the late Senator Ted Kennedy and Indian tribes. It is due to start producing power at the end of 2015, after nearly 15 years of legal battles.
Officials said the areas chosen for the new lease sales were the “best suited” to wind development, and had been sited to avoid environmental concerns or conflicts with locals.
The first wind zone, off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is just 10 miles off the coast. It will be leased in two parts. The proposed lease area in Virginia is about 23 nautical miles off southern Virginia.
Officials said the lease sale announced on Friday represented a first step in opening up offshore areas. Other blocks identified include areas of North Carolina and New Jersey. There are also plans to eventually site wind farms on the Pacific Coast, in Oregon and Hawaii.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
World temperature set to increase 9 degrees: study
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 2, 2012 14:27 EST
PARIS — Levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) are rising annually by around three percent, placing Earth on track for warming that could breach five degrees Celsius (9.0 degrees Fahrhenheit) by 2100, a new study published on Sunday said.
The figure — among the most alarming of the latest forecasts by climate scientists — is at least double the 2C (3.6F) target set by UN members struggling for a global deal on climate change.
In 2011, global carbon emissions were 54 percent above 1990 levels, according to the research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change by the Global Carbon Project consortium.
“We are on track for the highest emissions projections, which point to a rise in temperature of between 4C (7.2F) and 6C (10.8F) by the end of the century,” said Corinne le Quere, a carbon specialist at the University of East Anglia, eastern England.
“The estimate is based on growth trends that seem likely to last,” she said in a phone interview, pointing to the mounting consumption of coal by emerging giants.
Other research has warned of potentially catastrophic impacts from a temperature rise of this kind.
Chronic droughts and floods would bite into farm yields, violent storms and sea-level rise would swamp coastal cities and deltas, and many species would be wiped out, unable to cope with habitat loss.
Developed countries have largely stabilised their emissions since 1990, the benchmark year used in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, the study said.
But this achievement has been eclipsed by emissions by China, India, Brazil and Indonesia and other developing economies, which are turning to cheap, plentiful coal to power their rise out of poverty.
In 1990, developing countries accounted for 35 percent of worldwide output of CO2, the principal “greenhouse” gas blamed for warming Earth’s surface and inflicting damaging changes to the climate system.
In 2011, this was 58 percent.
The temperature projections by the Global Carbon Project are at the top end of forecasts published by scientists ahead of the UNFCCC talks taking place in Doha, Qatar.
The study is based on national carbon dioxide (CO2) data and on estimates for 2011 and 2012. Between 2000 and 2011, CO2 emissions globally rose by 3.1 percent annually on average; for 2012, the rise is estimated at 2.6 percent.
Last year, Chinese CO2 rose by 10 percent, or more than 800 million tonnes, equivalent to Germany’s emissions in an entire year, said the Center for International Cimate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO), whose scientists took part in the paper.
“China is emitting as much as the European Union on a per-capita basis, about 36 percent higher than the global average per-capita emissions,” it said in a press release.
03 December 2012 - 09H14 Fractious climate talks enter second week
AFP - Countries entered a second week of UN climate talks in Doha deeply divided on key issues even as fresh warnings were issued that rising greenhouse gas levels are putting our planet in peril.
After six days of intense negotiations, observers said nations were far from agreement on extending the Kyoto Protocol on curbing emissions of Earth-warming gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from burning fossil fuels.
With evidence mounting that man-made climate change is melting polar ice caps and causing sea levels to rise more quickly than feared, poor countries insist the West makes deeper, more urgent emissions cuts under Kyoto and gives more cash to help the third world adapt and cope.
The mechanisms for both remain in dispute.
"The science is clear: further delay would mean the opportunity to avert a global calamity would be irrevocably lost," the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a grouping of 43 countries at risk from warming-induced sea level rise, said on Monday.
"We begin the final week of negotiations in Doha with the sober recognition that time is running out to prevent the loss of entire nations and other calamities in our membership and around the world."
A new study warned Sunday that Earth could be on track for warming above five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 -- at least double the two degree Celsius limit being targeted for what scientists hope will be manageable climate change.
Other studies in the past week showed that polar ice cap melt had raised sea levels by nearly half an inch (11 millimetres) over the last two decades, and that Arctic ice had diminished at an unprecedented rate in 2012.
Yet observers say the Doha talks have become stuck, partly over a disagreement within the European Union on whether individual nations should be allowed to hold on to unused emissions quotas -- so-called "hot air" -- rather than scrapping them.
These left-over unused emission allowances, estimated to amount to some 13 billion tonnes for all countries put together, were allotted under the first leg of the Kyoto Protocol that runs out on December 31.
EU member Poland and some other countries now insist on carrying the "hot air" over into a followup period -- a move vehemently opposed by the developing world and countries most at risk of climate change-induced warming.
The surplus allowances can be sold on the carbon market.
"What were billed as mainly procedural talks are showing more controversy than expected," Greenpeace said of the talks.
December 2, 2012With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming
By JUSTIN GILLIS and JOHN M. BRODER
Global emissions of carbon dioxide were at a record high in 2011 and are likely to take a similar jump in 2012, scientists reported Sunday — the latest indication that efforts to limit such emissions are failing.
Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.
Josep G. Canadell, a scientist in Australia who leads that tracking program, said Sunday in a statement that salvaging the goal, if it can be done at all, “requires an immediate, large and sustained global mitigation effort.”
Yet nations around the world, despite a formal treaty pledging to limit warming — and 20 years of negotiations aimed at putting it into effect — have shown little appetite for the kinds of controls required to accomplish those stated aims.
Delegates from nearly 200 nations are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for the latest round of talks under the treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Their agenda is modest this year, with no new emissions targets and little progress expected on a protocol that is supposed to be concluded in 2015 and take effect in 2020.
Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the climate convention, said the global negotiations were necessary, but were not sufficient.
“We won’t get an international agreement until enough domestic legislation and action are in place to begin to have an effect,” she said in an interview. “Governments have to find ways in which action on the ground can be accelerated and taken to a higher level, because that is absolutely needed.”
The new figures show that emissions are falling, slowly, in some of the most advanced countries, including the United States. That apparently reflects a combination of economic weakness, the transfer of some manufacturing to developing countries and conscious efforts to limit emissions, like the renewable power targets that many American states have set. The boom in the natural gas supply from hydraulic fracturing is also a factor, since natural gas is supplanting coal at many power stations, leading to lower emissions.
But the decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.
“If we’re going to run the world on coal, we’re in deep trouble,” said Gregg H. Marland, a scientist at Appalachian State University who has tracked emissions for decades.
Over all, global emissions jumped 3 percent in 2011 and are expected to jump 2.6 percent in 2012, researchers reported in two papers released by scientific journals on Sunday. It has become routine to set new emissions records each year, although the global economic crisis led to a brief decline in 2009.
The level of carbon dioxide, the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, has increased about 41 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and scientists fear it could double or triple before emissions are brought under control. The temperature of the planet has already increased about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1850.
Further increases in carbon dioxide are likely to have a profound effect on climate, scientists say, leading to higher seas and greater coastal flooding, more intense weather disasters like droughts and heat waves, and an extreme acidification of the ocean. Many experts believe the effects are already being seen, but they are projected to worsen.
**************Carbon credit controversy could thwart UN climate negotiations
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Sunday, December 2, 2012 16:37 EST
Brazil has said a row over carbon credits could derail the United Nations climate change negotiations taking place in Qatar this week.
The row concerns whether countries entering the second round of the Kyoto protocol should be allowed to carry over emissions credits from the first phase. Some countries, including Poland, Ukraine and Russia, have large surpluses of credits, generated because their carbon output collapsed alongside their industrial base after the fall of communism.
These credits are derided as “hot air” by critics because they represent greenhouse gases already reduced many years ago, rather than new efforts. André Corrêa do Lago, head of the Brazilian delegation, told the Guardian: “The second phase has to have environmental integrity, and you will not have that if countries are allowed to carry over [the credits]. The second period will be completely compromised. This is not a way to have effective reductions.”
Brazil occupies an important position at the talks: it is one of the rapidly developing Basic countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), but has acted as a moderating force between this group and the developed nations, which often have major differences.
Russia and the Ukraine are thought to have billions of emissions credits unsold, but the focus has been on Poland because as a member of the EU it has committed to the second phase of Kyoto. Its refusal to give up its credits has riven a deep split in the EU, which likes to be seen as one of the engines of progress in the talks.
“They are debating this inside the European bloc and we really hope that they will solve it in a way that gives environmental integrity. This is a loophole that means they won’t reduce emissions [as much as promised], so it’s a very strange logic,” said Corrêa do Lago.
Russia has refused to join the second commitment period, likely to run from 2012 to 2020, and Ukraine’s position is unclear.
Developing countries are already unhappy that so few rich nations have agreed to join a second phase of Kyoto. The non-joiners have argued that the focus should shift from the 1997 Kyoto protocol to forging a new global agreement covering developed and developing countries, that would be drafted by 2015 and come into force in 2020. New Zealand’s climate minister, Tim Groser, told the Associated Press in Doha: “This excessive focus on Kyoto, Kyoto, Kyoto, Kyoto, was fine in the 1990s. But given that it covers only 15% of emissions, I’m sorry, this is not the main game.”
Corrêa do Lago said the second phase was needed to give all sides the confidence to proceed: “It is clear from the number of ship-jumpers that if we do not have a Kyoto protocol, things will go rapidly downhill.” He said the number of countries taking on pledges under the continued protocol meant it would not be enough to cut emissions in line with scientific advice, but said it might be “enough politically” to bring developing and developed countries together in a new global agreement to succeed the protocol after 2020.
The row in Doha came as a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change suggested emissions rose again this year, by about 2.6%, to a record high of 35.6bn tonnes. This means global emissions from burning fossil fuels are now 58% above 1990 levels, which was used as the base year for calculating emissions cuts under the Kyoto protocol, according to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.
The research follows stark warnings from other authorities in recent weeks, including the World Bank and International Energy Agency, that the world is headed for catastrophic levels of warming, of as much as 4-6C. Scientists say emissions must peak by 2020 to have a chance of holding warming to no more than 2C.
“The prospect of catastrophic climate change needs to change the mindsets of political leaders,” said Martin Kaiser, climate campaigner at Greenpeace. “Coal-rich Poland is so far dictating the European Union position on hot air. Ministers coming to Doha must make a choice now about whether they have the courage to defend people from the impacts of climate change, or whether they will pander to Brussels politics. If Europe makes the wrong call here, it will lose the trust of the rest of the world.”
Under the Kyoto protocol, Poland was obliged to cut its emissions by 6% by 2012 compared with 1988 levels. Poland’s emissions are currently about 30% below the baseline, but the country is a big producer and consumer of coal for power generation, and the country has frequently tried to block EU moves to strengthen environmental regulation.
Poland had an estimated 500m tonnes of carbon credits, known as assigned amount units, or AAUs, but has sold an unknown number to Spain, Japan and Ireland, to help those countries meet their emissions targets, for an estimated €190m so far. The credits are not worth much at present – similar credits can be picked up for as little as €1 – but Poland argues they are a “national right”.
In a move that some applauded as a diplomatic coup and others called a joke, the UN has agreed that next year’s climate talks will take place in Warsaw. Following on from this year’s choice of Qatar, which has the world’s highest per-capita emissions and derives most of its wealth from oil and gas, the choice may prove to be either inspired or disastrous.
***********Biogas created by waste fuels Nepal’s tree regrowth
By Samantha Kimmey
Sunday, December 2, 2012 20:02 EST
While forests in Nepal have been shrinking for years, between 2007 and 2010 trees in the South Asian country of 27 million inhabitants began to grow again, reported Al Jazeera English.
Biogas has been credited with the shift, as roughly 250,000 Nepalese now use the fuel.
Biogas is created by combining manure and other organic waste, including toilet waste, with water, which is put underground in an airtight container where it creates methane, which travels by underground pipes into kitchens to be used to cook.
One woman explains how she no longer has to spend hours each day collecting firewood. “We had to steal the firewood from the national park, and the army guards would chase us,” she said.
The technology has also allowed Nepal to collect carbon credits, which it has sold to generate $2 million so far.
Watch the video, via Al Jazeera English, below.http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mZsst4jCmuM
« Last Edit: Dec 03, 2012, 08:27 AM by Rad »
Climate change will more than double the number of malnourished children
By John Vidal, The Guardian
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 9:42 EST
Food prices set to more than double if climate change not checked and developing countries not helped to adapt farming
Food prices will more than double and the number of malnourished children spiral if climate change is not checked and developing countries are not helped to adapt their farming, food and water experts warned on Tuesday at the UN climate talks in Doha.
As the UK energy secretary, Ed Davey, and ministers from 194 countries arrived for the high-level segment of the talks, the UN’s Committee on World Food Security said the world would need a 75-90% increase in food production to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive in 2050. But climate change could reduce yields worldwide by 5-25% over the same period.
“The poor are especially vulnerable. Climate change will increase the number of malnourished children substantially. Smallholder farmers will be particularly hard hit,” said Gerald Nelson, a spokesman for the high-level panel of experts convened by the committee to report on food prospects in the coming 30 years.
Research from Oxfam suggests rice, maize and wheat prices could rise by up to 177% in the next 20 years if climate change is not checked. A combination of extreme events like the drought that affected North America this year and the Russian heatwave in 2008 could raise prices further than two decades of long-term prices, it said.
“Extreme weather means extreme prices. Our failure to slash emissions presents a future of greater food price volatility with severe consequences for the precarious lives of the people in poverty,” said Tracy Carty of Oxfam. “If developing countries are left alone to deal with the impacts of climate change, we are going to see millions of people lose their lands and livelihoods. Investing in the resilience of the poorest communities is not just a matter of justice, but a smart investment in a better collective future on this small planet.”
“What we are seeing already in northern Kenya and parts of Africa is food prices skyrocketing as farmers’ production declines in successive droughts,” said Mohamed Adow, climate adviser to Christian Aid. “The number of people is growing, putting extra stress on food production.”
Frustration has grown at the Doha conference over the lack of money being offered by rich countries to help farmers adapt to a world likely to see more extreme weather and events that devastate farming. Wealthy nations have broadly emphasised the need for farming to reduce its emissions using new technologies and carbon markets, while developing countries have wanted more emphasis on help for farmers to adapt.
“African negotiators are throwing their hands up in despair, and asking why they should even bother coming to the negotiations. Their cynicism is at its most stark in the agriculture negotiations,” said Seyni Nafo, spokesman for the African group in the talks.
A report from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Icarda) and two other international research groups says many of the solutions to climate change and food production are available now, but increased investment and urgent action is needed.
“Many of the solutions to climate change in the dry areas are known,” said Mahmoud Solh, Icarda’s director general. “They range from water and land management practices to improved crop varieties, and strategies for diversifying traditional crops. The best technologies serve little purpose without a strong policy environment in which they can be put into action, financed and managed.”
Bolivia and other Latin American countries with strong indigenous people movements accused rich countries of trying to “commodify” nature by encouraging carbon markets in the same way as forests with the UN’s Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) schemes. “It is an attack on nature and common sense that is pushing countries to commodify agriculture with carbon credits as it did with the forests through Redd+, as it intends to do with the oceans and the Earth. Agriculture provides food, give us jobs, gives us life, is the cultural, economic and social basis of our communities, our villages, our producers,” said Rene Orellane, head of the Bolivian delegation at the talks. He was backed by India, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.
“Carbon markets for agriculture could increase income and reduce emissions. Smallholder farmers can group together to reduce emissions and have a stable income,” said Nelson.
But the market approach runs counter to the spiritual beliefs of indigenous peoples. “We have a growing feeling that markets are not the answer. We do not want to put a price on nature. The conference is taking developing countries further and further down the road of markets and away from practical help,” said Ariel Chavez, a spokesman for the Latin American regional office of Swedish NGO Diakonia. “We are only hearing about market mechanisms in the conference. But we know that markets are volatile and risky.”
© Guardian News and Media 2012
S. Korea formally dumps ‘scientific’ whaling plan
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 8:25 EST
SEOUL — South Korea confirmed Wednesday that it had formally dropped its fiercely criticised plan to resume “scientific” whaling and adopted non-lethal means to study the mammals in its waters.
Under International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules, a formal proposal for the hunt was required by 3 December, but none was filed.
“We’ve decided to carry out ‘no-kill’ scientific research and, therefore, it became unnecessary to submit such a request,” an official at the fisheries ministry told AFP.
South Korea had unveiled its plan to resume whaling at an IWC meeting in Panama in July, saying it would use a loophole in a global moratorium that permits killing of whales for “scientific” research.
At the time, Seoul cited what it called a significant increase in whale stocks in its waters.
But the move was condemned by many countries and environmental groups and reports emerged just weeks later that the government was reconsidering.
Greenpeace on Wednesday welcomed South Korea’s decision as a victory for tens of thousands of people who had sent individual letters to Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik, urging his government to drop the plan.
“The world does not support commercial whaling, even when it is disguised as scientific research,” said Greenpeace International oceans campaigner John Frizell.
“The decision by South Korea to listen to its own people and the global community and abandon a whaling programme modelled on that of Japan is a huge win for the world’s whales,” Frizell said.
Japan uses the same loophole considered by South Korea, killing whales for “scientific research” even though the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.
Arab world ‘to bear brunt of climate change’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 8:05 EST
Global warming will have dire consequences for the Middle East and North Africa, with even hotter and drier conditions devastating everything from agriculture to tourism, a World Bank report said on Wednesday.
On current trends, average temperatures in Arab countries are likely to rise by as much as three degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) by 2050 — and double that for night-time temperatures, said the report released at UN climate talks in Doha.
Rainfall in the region with the world?s lowest endowment of fresh water is projected to become even more unreliable, and flash floods more frequent.
“The climate of Arab countries will experience unprecedented extremes,” warned the report.
“Temperatures will continue to reach record highs, and in many places there will be less rainfall. Water availability will be reduced, and with a growing population the already water-scarce region may not have sufficient supplies to irrigate crops, support industry, and provide drinking water.
“Climate change will not only challenge the status quo: it will threaten the basic pillars of development.”
Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are gathered in the Qatari capital to thrash out a deal on reducing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions and provide funding to help developing nations, many in this region, deal with a changing climate.
The United Nations is targeting a global warming limit of two degrees Celsius from industrial age levels, but several reports have recently warned that Earth is heading for double this on current emissions trends.
The World Bank said climate change has, or soon will, affect most of the 340 million people in the Arab region — but the 100 million poorest, with fewer resources to adapt, will feel it most.
It will affect livelihoods — causing a cumulative drop in household incomes of about seven percent in Syria and Tunisia and 24 percent in Yemen, said the report.
All but six Arab countries already suffer from water scarcity, which is defined as less than 1,000 cubic metres (264,200 gallons) of water per person per year.
Climate change is expected to reduce water runoff by another 10 percent by 2050, while demand will grow by 60 percent.
On top of water scarcity and even more scorching temperatures, farmers will also have to contend with saline intrusion from the sea, new pests and a drop in soil fertility, said the report.
The current rate of increase in agricultural production is likely to slow over the next few decades, and may start to decline after about 2050.
“This is alarming because almost half of the Arab region?s population lives in rural areas, and 40 percent of employment is derived from agriculture.”
Tourism will also suffer.
Contributing about $50 billion dollars (38 billion euros) to the Arab region’s purse today, about three percent of its gross domestic product and six percent of employment, the sector is likely to be hard hit once tourists start opting for milder climes.
“Snowfall in Lebanon (for skiing), Red Sea coral reefs, and many ancient monuments across the region are threatened by climate change and severe weather,” said the World Bank.
Higher temperatures also pose serious health risks as vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue are introduced to new areas, and malnutrition rises as food becomes scarcer.
The report urged urgent political intervention to ensure climate adaptation plans were integrated into all national policies.
Governments must collect climate data, promote more effective farmland management, fund research into drought resistant crops and invest in waste water treatment plants, it said.
“As the climate becomes ever more extreme, so will its impacts on people?s livelihoods and well-being,” said Inger Andersen, World Bank vice president for the Middle East and North Africa region.
“The time to take actions at both the national and regional level in order to increase climate resilience is now.”
12/04/2012 06:04 PM
The Summit in Doha: Four Reasons for Hope on Climate Change
Can the world's climate still be saved? Many have already given up hope due to steadily climbing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But the battle has not yet been lost -- and there are reasons for optimism. A guest commentary by the British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey
As things stand, the world is plainly not on track to keep the global temperature increase from climate change below two degrees centigrade, which is generally regarded as global warming's danger threshold.
The UN Environment Program (UNEP) said last week that at best, current commitments would take us somewhat short of half way towards a climate safe trajectory; and a World Bank report published the same week showed some of the dangers of a world warmed by 4°C. Anyone who engages seriously with the science is right to be concerned.
But I would identify four reasons to be hopeful. First, if we act we can still avert climate change's worst impacts. Both the UNEP report and an International Energy Agency report published the week before said that time was running out, but that 2 degrees is still within reach if we can muster the political will.
Second, the international process may be slow, but it is delivering. Since the Copenhagen summit in 2009, countries representing 80 per cent of global emissions have made economy-wide pledges of action. We agreed at Durban last year to work to a 2015 deadline for negotiating a new legally binding global deal, and I believe that it is reasonable to aim for step-by-step progress towards that deal, beginning in Doha.
In addition to agreeing to a high-level work plan towards the 2015 global deal, I want to see some concrete actions to reduce emissions before that, adoption of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol with robust accounting and transparency arrangements for those not in Kyoto, and to give developing countries comfort on the continuing provision of finance.
Improvements From the Biggest Emitters
Third, we have seen serious action by many countries, including some of the big emitters. Globe International has reported that legislation is moving forward in all major economies. Brazil has reduced deforestation by around two thirds since a peak in 2004. Korea is spending 2 percent of its GDP on the low-carbon economy. China has embedded energy efficiency and renewables targets in its latest five-year plan and is testing carbon markets in seven of its provinces.
In the UK, our Carbon Budgets provide a clear pathway to our 2050 target of an 80 percent emissions cut. We are acting on energy efficiency and smarter infrastructure. And I have recently introduced an energy bill which will give investors and industry the attractive framework and the certainty they need to deliver the huge infrastructure investment that the UK's energy sector needs.
As a result, we are on track to meet the milestones set by the EU Renewables Directive and to deliver enough renewable generation capacity to source 30 percent of the UK's electricity from renewables by 2020.
In the EU, I will continue to argue next year that going from a 20 percent emissions cut in 2020 to 30 percent, adopting longer-term targets in 2030, and renewing focus on the benefits of the Green Economy will provide the clarity and confidence so many of our businesses are demanding of us.
A Shift in Global Investments
Fourth, this action is underpinned by important changes in the real economy. According to Bloomberg, global investment in renewables outstripped fossil fuels for the first time last year. We are seeing new renewable energy technologies break into and compete successfully in the market place. Solar PV has averaged 42 percent annual growth globally over the last decade; onshore wind has averaged 27 percent.
In some markets, some solar technologies have come down in price by as much as 75 percent in only three years and are now cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of Africa and South Asia. Companies such as Unilever, Vodafone, Walmart and Kingfisher are setting ambitious targets to make their supply chains more sustainable. This isn't just a marketing ploy: Rising resource scarcity and climate stress means that sustainable, resilient production makes good business sense. As we saw in Rio earlier this year, businesses are now setting the agenda for governments.
I am looking to build on the leadership of such companies with a major new program to address the drivers of deforestation. On Thursday, at an event hosted by HRH the Prince of Wales, I set out plans for working with the private sector and rainforest countries so that the timber and foodstuffs we buy do not cause deforestation. And alongside the US, Norway, Germany and Australia I committed jointly to accelerating our efforts to tackle deforestation, to have a chance of staying within 2 degrees.
The UK played a significant role in securing commitment in Durban last year to negotiate a new legally binding deal by 2015, and we are not letting up in our efforts. Tackling dangerous climate change is a complex task, but in the UK we are determined to rise to the challenge, working together with all Parties at the UN towards our shared goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees and preventing the worst effects of climate change.
Fossil found in colonial Tanzania could be from oldest ever dinosaur
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 4, 2012 20:00 EST
PARIS — Fossilised bones unearthed by a British palaeontologist in colonial Tanzania in the 1930s may be those of the oldest dinosaur ever found, researchers reported on Wednesday.
The bones are either those of the earliest dinosaur or of the closest relative of dinosaurs discovered to date, they said.
A denizen of the Middle Triassic around 243 million years ago, the creature predates all previous dinosaur finds by 10 to 15 million years, the scientists said.
The specimen also points to the possible birthplace of these enigmatic species in a mega-continent called Pangaea, they added.
Dubbed Nyasasaurus, the putative dino was about 80 centimetres (three feet) high, up to three metres (10 feet) in length and had a tail up to 1.5 metres (five feet) long, according to their study.
It probably weighed between 20 and 60 kilos (45-135 pounds).
“If the newly-named Nyasasaurus parringtoni is not the earliest dinosaur, then it is the closest relative found so far,” said Sterling Nesbitt of the University of Washington.
Nyasasaurus’ name derives from Lake Nyasa — now called Lake Malawi — and from a University of Cambridge palaeontologist, Rex Parrington.
His team excavated the six vertebrae and upper arm bone from sediment in the Ruhuhu Valley of southern Tanzania in the early 1930s.
That location, said the authors, backs theories that dinosaurs evolved in the southern portion of the supercontinent of Pangaea, where Earth’s land masses were glommed together before the pieces drifted apart to form continents.
The southern part of Pangaea comprised Africa, Australia, South America and Antarctica.
For decades, the Nyasasaurus bones languished and were never formally documented.
Their true importance has only been made clear today, thanks in part to modern scanning technology which compared Parrington’s specimens in London’s Natural History Museum against two other Nyasasaurus bones at the South African Museum in Cape Town.
What makes the finds special is that they share many important features of dinosaur bones as well as imprinted traces of tissue showing that the creature grew rapidly, again a dino characteristic.
“For 150 years, people have been suggesting that there should be Middle Triassic dinosaurs, but all the evidence is ambiguous,” Nesbitt said.
“Some scientists used fossilised footprints, but we now know that other animals from that time have a very similar foot.
“Other scientists pointed to a single dinosaur-like characteristic in a single bone, but that can be misleading because some characteristics evolved in a number of reptile groups and are not a result of shared ancestry.”
The Triassic Period — between 252 and 201 million years ago — not only presided over the rise of the dinosaurs. It also saw the emergence of turtles, frogs, lizards and mammals.
If the new study is right, the reign of the dinosaurs was even more successful than thought.
The “giant lizards” spanned some 178 million years until their lineage was blotted out by an extinction event, presumed to be a giant space rock that whacked into the plant.
The paper appears in Biology Letters, a journal of Britain’s Royal Society.
12/07/2012 01:03 PM
'Limits to Growth' Author Dennis Meadows: 'Humanity Is Still on the Way to Destroying Itself'
In 1972, environmental guru Dennis Meadows predicted in his seminal study "The Limits to Growth" that the world was heading toward an economic collapse. Forty years on, he tells SPIEGEL ONLINE that nothing he has seen since has made him change his mind.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Professor Meadows, 40 years ago you published "The Limits to Growth" together with your wife and colleagues, a book that made you the intellectual father of the environmental movement. The core message of the book remains valid today: Humanity is ruthlessly exploiting global resources and is on the way to destroying itself. Do you believe that the ultimate collapse of our economic system can still be avoided?
Meadows: The problem that faces our societies is that we have developed industries and policies that were appropriate at a certain moment, but now start to reduce human welfare, like for example the oil and car industry. Their political and financial power is so great and they can prevent change. It is my expectation that they will succeed. This means that we are going to evolve through crisis, not through proactive change.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Several central forecasts you made in the book have come true, the exponential growth of the world's population, for example, and widespread environmental destruction. Your prediction regarding economic growth, namely that it would ultimately cease and the global economy would collapse, has not yet come to pass.
Meadows: The fact that the collapse hasn't occurred so far doesn't mean it won't take place in the future. There is no doubt that the world is changing, and we will have to go along with it. There are two ways to do that: One is, you see the necessity of change ahead of time and you make the change, and the second is that you don't and are finally forced to do it anyway. Let's say that you're driving a car inside a factory building. There are two ways to stop: Either you put on the brakes or you keep going and hit the wall. But stop you will, because the building is finite. And the same holds true for Earth's resources.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: That sounds convincing, but is it really true? Will not private companies react to dwindling resources with innovation in an effort to maintain profitability?
Meadows: The really big changes don't come from inside of established industries. Who made the iPhone? Not Nokia, not Motorola, nor any of the other established mobile phone producers. It came from Apple, totally outside the industry. There are many other examples of this kind.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What about in areas that are under state control or regulation?
Meadows: That's even worse. Our history with fishing shows that we are destroying the oceans' ecosystems, for example. And we're using our atmosphere as a free industrial waste dump. Nobody has an incentive to protect them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is not the desire for humanity's survival enough of a motivation?
Meadows: You see, there are two kinds of big problems. One I call universal problems, the other I call global problems. They both affect everybody. The difference is: Universal problems can be solved by small groups of people because they don't have to wait for others. You can clean up the air in Hanover without having to wait for Beijing or Mexico City to do the same. Global Problems, however, cannot be solved in a single place. There's no way Hanover can solve climate change or stop the spread of nuclear weapons. For that to happen, people in China, the US and Russia must also do something. But on the global problems, we will make no progress.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you not underestimating people and the reaction when our backs are to the wall? Australian businessman and environmentalist Paul Gilding, for example, argues in his book "The Great Disruption" that while a crisis is coming, humanity will mobilize to fight it as seen during times of war.
Meadows: He is right. But will it succeed? It could, if the delays were very short. But unfortunately, they are not. In climate change, for example, the delays are very long. Even if we were to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero today, warming would still continue for centuries. The same is true for soil, which we are destroying globally. Recovery can take centuries.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Surely technological innovation has served to reduce the impact of some long-term problems. Since your book appeared four decades ago, for example, modern medicine has increased life expectancy and reduced infant mortality rates. New technologies have dramatically increased harvests and computers and the Internet have brought the world closer together and improved access to education.
Meadows: Technology doesn't invent itself. These achievements were the results of decades of hard work, and someone has to pay for these programs. One big source of money is the military. Another is corporations, and they are not motivated to solve global problems, they're motivated to make money. The drug companies in the United States spend more money on hair-loss prevention than on preventing HIV infections. Why? Because rich people go bald and poor people get HIV.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But imagine the profits that would accrue to the inventor of a new, clean and limitless source of energy.
Meadows: I hope you're not talking about fusion, because that's bullshit. I think we will discover a major new energy source. But afterwards, it would take decades for it to make an impact. Even if there was no resistance, even if there were no environmental impacts and even if it wouldn't make a lot of people bankrupt -- still it would take a long time. So if someone tells you that technology is going to save us just like that, he does not know how technology is developed.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What about resources. Past forecasts predicted that there would be hardly any oil left by 2012, but there still seems to be plenty available. Recent estimates even show that the US might soon produce more oil than Saudi Arabia.
Meadows: That may very well be. But the oil reserves we are talking about are scarce and very expensive to exploit. And they, too, will be depleted one day. And then we have a problem. Here's an example: I have a neighbor, she's rich. Her electric bill is, let's say, 1 percent of her income. Then comes Hurricane Sandy, and suddenly she had no electricity in her house. Does her quality of life go down by 1 percent? No! Her food is spoiled; she can't turn on her lights; she can't work anymore. It's a disaster for her. Take a look around. The chair you sit on, the glass windows, the lights -- everything is here for one single reason: We enjoy cheap energy.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Let's assume that you are right and that the collapse will arrive in this century. What will it look like?
Meadows: It will look different in different places. Some countries are already collapsing, and some people won't even notice. There are almost a billion people who are starving to death these days, and people here basically aren't noticing. And there is the issue of speed: The difference between a decline and a collapse is speed. The rich can buy their way out of a lot of things. The end of fossil energy, for example, will be gradual. But climate change will come to the industrial countries no matter what. And the geological record clearly shows that the global temperature doesn't increase in a linear way. It jumps. If that happens, a collapse will occur. But it would be nothing new, of course. Societies rise and fall. They have been doing so for 300,000 years.
Interview conducted by Markus Becker
12/07/2012 10:09 AM
Rising Sea Levels and Less Rain: Better Science to Hone Climate Change Warnings
By Olaf Stampf
The next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts won't be released until late 2013. But insiders say that thanks to faster computers and better models, the report will offer more precise predictions and adjust anticipated changes in sea levels and precipitation.
The world's climate forecasting specialists will soon be releasing much-anticipated new predictions concerning a number of extremely weighty questions: How warm will the climate really get? Will sea levels continue to rise? Where will it rain more, and where less?
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) won't announce its latest round of forecasts until the end of next year, but confidential draft versions are already circulating within scientific circles.
The field of climate research has advanced since the IPCC's last assessment report, released in 2007, as computers have grown faster and models more complex. In fact, these developments make what insiders say the IPCC's message will be all the more astonishing: The new forecasts, they say, will be more or less the same as the old ones, just more precise.
The scientists' simulations show that if humans continue to emit the same amount of greenhouse gases into the air, the average global temperature will rise by an additional 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The Earth has already grown warmer by about 1 degree Celsius over the last 100 years, making a total change of 3 degrees Celsius. In Germany, that amounts to the difference in climate between the northern city of Hamburg and Freiburg in the south of the country.
The IPCC is also expected to adjust the projected rise in sea levels slightly upward. The last assessment report predicted a fairly conservative range of 18 to 59 centimeters (7 to 23 inches). In retrospect, most oceanographers and glaciologists find that estimate too low and say it fails to adequately take into account data suggesting that mountain glaciers and Greenland's continental ice will melt more quickly than initially predicted. The new IPCC report is expected to predict that coastal waters may rise almost a meter (3.3 feet) higher than they are today -- although that level won't be reached for 100 years.
The IPCC's predictions concerning precipitation, on the other hand, may be more conservative than in the previous assessment. Computer models certainly show a clear trend: In places where it already rains a great deal, it will rain even more; and where it is currently dry, it will grow even drier. That's the theory, at least. The only problem is that, so far, these forecasts have not matched reality.
According to the models, subtropical regions, in particular, are expected to grow drier, with new arid zones appearing in the southern United States, South Africa and Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain. Real measurement data from the last 60 years, though, show no such trend toward aridity. Those regions do experience frequent dry periods, but not more often than they have in the past. One possible explanation is that the slight global warming that has occurred so far is not yet enough to cause observable changes in precipitation.
Wind is another area where the IPCC is expected to retract previous warnings. There has been widespread concern that increased global warming could bring about more serious storms, but current long-range forecasts don't suggest such a trend. In fact, the number of hurricanes each year is expected to drop, although peak winds in tropical storms may increase somewhat.
The forecasts for moderate latitudes are even more unambiguous. In regions outside the tropics -- Central Europe, for example -- storms will become neither more frequent nor more serious.
World’s oldest trees dying due to climate change: study
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 6, 2012 22:21 EST
Scientists Friday warned of an alarming increase in the death rates of the largest living organisms on the planet, the giant, old trees that harbour and sustain countless birds and wildlife.
Research by universities in Australia and the United States, published in Science, said ecosystems worldwide were in danger of losing forever their largest and oldest trees unless there were policy changes to better protect them.
“It’s a worldwide problem and appears to be happening in most types of forest,” said David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University, the lead author of a study into the problem.
“Just as large-bodied animals such as elephants, tigers, and cetaceans have declined drastically in many parts of the world, a growing body of evidence suggests that large old trees could be equally imperilled.”
Lindenmayer, along with colleagues from the James Cook University in Australia and Washington University in America, undertook their study after examining Swedish forestry records going back to the 1860s.
They found alarming losses of big trees, ranging from 100 to 300 years old, at all latitudes in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, South America, Latin America and Australia.
The trees at risk included mountain ash in Australia, pine trees in America, California redwoods, and baobabs in Tanzania.
The study showed that trees were not only dying en masse in forest fires, but were also perishing at 10 times the normal rate in non-fire years.
The study said it appeared to be down to a combination of rapid climate change causing drought and high temperatures, as well as rampant logging and agricultural land clearing.
“It is a very, very disturbing trend,” said Bill Laurance of James Cook University.
“We are talking about the loss of the biggest living organisms on the planet, of the largest flowering plants on the planet, of organisms that play a key role in regulating and enriching our world.”
Large old trees play critical ecological roles, providing nesting or sheltering cavities for up to 30 percent of all birds and animals in some ecosystems.
They also store huge amounts of carbon, recycle soil nutrients, create rich patches for other life to thrive in, and influence the flow of water within landscapes.
“Big trees supply abundant food for numerous animals in the form of fruits, flowers, foliage and nectar,” said Laurance.
“Their hollows offer nests and shelter for birds and animals… and their loss could mean extinction for such creatures.”
The scientists said policies and management practices must be put in place that intentionally grow such trees and reduce their mortality rates.
“Targeted research is urgently needed to better understand the key threats to their existence and to devise strategies to counter them,” they added.
“Without such initiatives, these iconic organisms and the many species dependent on them could be greatly diminished or lost altogether.”
NOAA: Arctic lost record amounts of snow and ice last year
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Thursday, December 6, 2012 8:48 EST
Findings from US science agency Noaa suggest widespread and irreversible changes because of a warming climate
The Arctic lost more snow and sea ice between October 2011 and August 2012 than any year other on record, a premier US science agency reported on Wednesday, delivering the fullest picture to date of a region in the throes of rapid, system-wide change.
The Arctic lost record snow cover and sea ice last year – even though air temperatures were not unusually high.
By the end of August, several weeks before the end of the summer melt season, Arctic sea ice had retreated to its smallest extent since satellite records began in 1979.
In Greenland, virtually the entire ice sheet – 97% – sustained some degree of thawing during a period of a few days in July, including on some of the highest peaks.
Meanwhile, blooms of algae sprouted beneath the permanent sea ice in the middle of the Arctic ocean, feeding off the sunlight filtering through melt pools.
The report cites a massive bloom of phytoplankton beneath the Chukchi sea ice stretching for more than 60 miles, as well as algae blooms near melt holes in the central Arctic.
On land, shrubs are spreading across the lower Arctic because of a longer growing season, but other tundra plant types – such as moss and lichen – are declining. The change in vegetation is also creating favourable conditions for wildfires, the report said.
In northern Europe, the Arctic fox is heading towards extinction because of the advance of the red fox.
The findings, prepared by a team of 140 scientists overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), suggest widespread changes in the Arctic, because of a warming climate. The changes are unlikely to be reversible.
“What we have is a body of evidence that the Arctic is changing in significant ways and throughout the system,” Martin Jeffries, a co-editor of the 2012 report and an Arctic science advisor to the Office of Naval Research, said. “It is system-wide and these changes feed on each other.”
It is also unlikely the Arctic will recover in the near future, he said. Those changes, in the form of retreating summer sea ice and snow cover, in turn make the region even more vulnerable, exposing more of it to the sun’s rays, Jeffries warned.
“As the sea ice and snow cover retreat, we’re losing bright, highly reflective surfaces, and increasing the area of darker surfaces – both land and ocean – exposed to sunlight. This increases the capacity to store heat within the Arctic system, which enables more melting –a self-reinforcing cycle.”
The report, an annual exercise by Noaa since 2006, was presented at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
It further consolidates the growing body of evidence that climate change has exacted significant effects on the Arctic. Some of those changes are already altering political calculations – with Russia, Canada and America trying to stake their claims to the vast oil and mineral potential of an Arctic that could be entirely free of summer sea-ice within a matter of years.
The gloomiest scientists say that summer sea ice could be entirely gone within the decade, other predictions stretch to mid-century for an “ice-diminished” Arctic.
“What it seems now is that even if we have a modest increase in greenhouse gases that that gets amplified in the Arctic,” said James Overland, a Noaa oceanographer. “We are going to continue to see an increase in all of these changes at least for the next few decades.”
Jason Box, a polar researcher at Ohio State University who oversaw the Greenland portion of the report, told the meeting the widespread melting last summer could signal a climate tipping point.
“In 2012 Greenland crossed a threshold where for the first time we saw complete surface melting at the highest elevations in what we used to call the dry snow zone,” he told reporters at the AGU. “As Greenland crosses the threshold and starts really melting in the upper elevations it really won’t recover from that unless the climate cools significantly for an extended period of time which doesn’t seem very likely.”
© Guardian News and Media 2012
09 December 2012 - 11H43 Fractious Doha talks bode ill for 2020 deal
AFP - The fractious debate at UN climate talks in Doha points to a rocky road ahead to a new, global 2020 deal on saving the Earth from calamitous global warming, observers say.
A consensus interim agreement that many say is low on substance, was passed after two weeks of intense haggling that deadlocked almost from day one and highlighted deep fault lines between rich and poor nations.
"If we make a judgment based on what we've seen in these negotiations so far, there is no reason to be optimistic" about a fair, new global deal, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo told AFP.
The key dispute has remained unaltered for more than two decades -- sharing out responsibility for tackling what UN chief Ban Ki-moon called the climate change "crisis".
The developing world places the onus for financing and deep emissions cuts on rich countries which they say got where they are today by pumping the bulk of Earth-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during the industrial era.
But rich countries led by the United States, which has refused to ratify the emissions-curbing Kyoto Protocol, insist on imposing a duty on poorer nations polluting heavily today as they burn coal to bolster their developing economies.
"It is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of compromise," climate observer Alden Meyer of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists told AFP.
The new deal covering all the world's nations must be negotiated by 2015.
A slew of recent reports has warned that the Earth is on the road to dangerous warming levels with ever more extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy that struck the US east coast and Caribbean in October and the deadly typhoon that swept through the Philippines.
"We are headed on current plans for likely increases of 3 centigrade degrees or more -- temperatures far outside those that Homo sapiens has ever experienced," British economist Nick Stern, author of a landmark climate change report, said of the Doha deal.
The UN is targeting a limited warming of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Battered and bruised, negotiators applauded as conference chairman Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah of Qatar rushed through a package of deals he called the Doha Climate Gateway on Saturday evening.
The package gave a second life to the Kyoto Protocol, albeit in a watered-down form -- placing binding emissions cut targets on the European Union and 10 other developed countries jointly responsible for about 15 percent of the world's emissions.
While there is relief that Doha delivered some kind of a deal, many worry it has not laid down a firm enough foundation.
The package includes wording on scaling up funding from now until 2020 to help poor countries deal with global warming and convert to planet-friendlier energy sources -- but does not list any figures.
It is also short on detail on stepping up urgently needed pre-2020 emissions cuts by non-Kyoto partners, which include the world's first and fourth biggest polluters, developing nations China and India, as well as the second-placed United States.
"Very intense negotiations lie ahead of us. What we need now is more ambition and more speed," European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.
Philippine climate envoy Naderev Sano made an emotional appeal to delegates to take heed of the typhoon that killed more than 500 people in his country as the talks bogged down in Doha, and recognise "the stark reality that we face".
Yet greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
"There has been, yet again, a very big mismatch between the scale and urgency of action required to effectively manage the huge risks of climate change, and the political will and ambition that has been displayed," said Stern.
But narrow, domestic interests will likely continue to hamstring negotiations.
The United States is vehemently opposed to a global deal that imposes goals from the top down, insisting it wants a "flexible" system that allows nations themselves to determine what they can contribute.
"It is going to be hard because you need both the United States and China in alignment, and the politics lining up in those two countries to feel they can go much farther for 2020 and make the kind of commitments we need," said Meyer.
Observers have welcomed Ban's announcement that he will host a climate summit in 2014, allowing crucial political decisions to be taken right at the top relatively early in the negotiations.
But others say there is no time to wait on the UN process.
Danish politician Lars Rasmussen, who chaired the 2009 Copenhagen summit widely dubbed disappointing, told AFP this week he has "lost patience" with the multilateral process.
He now chairs the Global Green Growth Institute that helps developing countries convert to greener energy.
"We need a legal, multilateral framework, targets, we need to make progress. But we cannot wait for that to happen," he said.
December 9, 2012, 6:00 amIgnoring Planetary Peril, Profound ‘Disconnect’ Between Science and Doha
By CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE
Watch on Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3OjAv4aBiqY
In one of the most poignant moments of the Doha climate talks, the Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, Naderev M. Sano, appealed to his fellow negotiators at a session deciding the contours of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
"Please let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around," he said as he choked back tears.
Just days before, Typhoon Bopha had hit the Philippines, killing hundreds of people. The typhoon, having been both unusually forceful and out of season, was deemed - like Hurricane Sandy - to be an extreme weather event, exacerbated by climate change.
You can see Commissioner Sano addressing the plenary of the working group dedicated to the increasingly ineffective Kyoto agreement above and here.
Despite the pleas of the Philippine commissioner and those of many others, the Doha Summit, was almost politics as usual. It did take 24 hours of overtime, but the Doha Climate Gateway was finally approved on Saturday. The agreement extends the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 when a more global emissions reduction agreement is to take effect.
"The Doha package represents a modest but important step forward," said Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, according to news reports.
Though the new, tougher and more inclusive treaty will be under negotiation until 2015, environmentalists warn that any deal that goes into effect in 2020 comes too late.
"We can't wait until the 2020s to start cutting emissions, we are going to have to do it this decade," said Samantha Smith, who heads the Global Climate and Energy Initiative at the World Wildlife Fund in a telephone interview from Doha.
The American media reported little on the climate talks, compared to European media. That may be in part, as my colleague John Broder reports: "It has long been evident that the United Nations talks were at best a partial solution to the planetary climate change problem, and at worst an expensive sideshow. The most effective actions to date have been taken at the national, state and local levels, with a number of countries adopting aggressive emissions reductions programs and using cap-and-trade programs or other means to help finance them."
But, as John writes, climate change is "a problem that scientists say is growing worse faster than any of them predicted even a few years ago."
"What this meeting reinforced is that while this is an important forum, it is not the only one in which progress can and must be made," said Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the international climate programs at the Environmental Defense Fund. "The disconnect between the level of ambition the parties are showing here and what needs to happen to avoid dangerous climate change is profound."
"The biggest problem is the disconnect from the science," said Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace international, who also spoke to Rendezvous from Doha.
"We should peak in 2015 and then come down," he said, referring to global emissions, "and we are just so far from that."
Environmentalists charge that national economic interests took priority over the fight against global warming at Doha, even as an increasing number of people worldwide are becoming aware of the urgency of the problem.
A popular tweet that went around on the final days of the two-week summit:
"Scientists must be the most frustrated people on the planet right now." #climatechange #cop18 upworthy.com/the-most-devas
- Occupy Sandy (@OccupySandy) December 7, 2012
Environmentalists also call on developed nations to be more transparent, both in their plans for emission reduction and their green financing pledges for the developing countries.
In a best-case scenario, the United States would have "come in explaining how they would cut 17 percent from 2005 levels," said Ms. Smith.
The head of the United Nations also called for transparency in Green Climate funding. Ban Ki-moon arrived in Doha earlier this week to demand that rich countries show how they will achieve the pledged $100 billion a year by 2020 in funding to help poor countries deal with the negative effects of climate change.
"It is important that developing countries, especially those that are poor and vulnerable, are presented with a roadmap on how this commitment on long term financing will be met," said Mr. Ban.
An agreement on pledges between now and 2020 will be put off for another year, though individual countries and bodies - including the United States and the European Union - have already made firm pledges for the coming years.
The European Union, long seen as the dominant force in these negotiations, was criticized for weak leadership at this summit. Strife within the European family on whether unused emission credits - dubbed "hot air" - should be carried over into the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol weakened the European position.
Experts say that certain countries - like Russia and Poland - were allotted too many credits in the first Kyoto commitment period and that the unused and tradable credits would weaken future emission goals under the protocol, if carried over to the second commitment period.
More importantly, the Union backed down from previous suggestions that it would cut its emissions by 30 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, remaining committed to the 20 percent cut target it had initially promised.
Poland, one of the 27 European member states, is still heavily reliant on the most polluting fossil fuels. The country, which just recently was declared site of the COP19 meeting in 2013, is seen as opposing both "hot air" compromises and more severe emission reduction targets within the larger European Union. (Each annual meeting is formally known as the Conference of the Parties.)
Despite such failures, the European Union is still seen as the most plausible leader among rich nations.
"Europe still offers us the best opportunity to be the global environmental champion," said Mr. Naidoo of Greenpeace, while insisting that Europe needs to do a lot more.
Despite the discord within the Union on "hot air" credits, Ms. Hedegaard, the European climate commissioner, still worked at getting assurances that the credits, or assigned amount units (AAUs), would not be bought by others.
Just had a bilateral with #Japan. They promised NOT to buy #AAUs.#COP18 #kyotoprotocol #hotair
- Connie Hedegaard (@CHedegaardEU) December 6, 2012
In the final session several other countries - Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco, Norway and Australia, to name a few - declared they would not buy unused credits.
Actions by United States negotiators were under special scrutiny this year both because of the extreme weather events the country has suffered and President Obama's post-election vow to make climate change part of the national agenda.
"It was a year when the U.S. could have come by putting more money and more cuts on the table," said Ms. Smith.
"Obama's team exhibit no improvement from previous COPs," Mr. Naidoo of Greenpeace said in a press statement issued on Saturday. "Obama's legacy could turn out to be no better than his predecessor's."
In one session, The Alliance of Small Island States were seen to be fighting the United States on the issue of loss and damage, a proposal that was ultimately adopted and would pave the way for heavy emitters to be held financially liable for the effects of climate change in developing countries affected by climate change (For those interested, here's a short primer).
"The disaster of Copenhagen happened on Obama's watch and a failure in 2015 would be really bad for his legacy," said Ms. Smith.
Despite Canada's first place finish at the Climate Action Network's Fossil of the Year award and the clever trick of activists who claimed to have registered the Canadian environment minister in some undergraduate atmospheric climate science classes, environmentalists said not enough official reprimand had been made of Canada's decision last year to leave the Kyoto Protocol.
"Another good outcome would have been for other countries to publicly chastise Canada," said Ms. Smith of WWF.
Despite a commitment to grow its own renewable energy share to 2 percent by 2020 (read John's report here), Qatar, the oil-rich host country, was criticized for not showing enough leadership at the summit.
Activists who dared unfurl an unregistered banner that read "Qatar, why host not lead," were immediately thrown out of the convention center by U.N. security guards and had their access privileges revoked. Several news sources reported that the activists were then deported from the country.
09 December 2012 - 05H35 World's second most polluted city turns to buses
AFP - On the streets of Ulan Bator a people renowned for their horse riding skills have to contend every day with ever more Hummers, Land Cruisers and Range Rovers.
Mongolia's vast open steppes and deserts stretch for hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres (miles), and it has the lowest population density of any country in the world.
But with its economy rocketing on the back of a mining boom the capital is the planet's second most polluted city after Ahvaz in Iran, according to the World Health Organisation, and suffers from dire congestion.
Now the authorities hope to alleviate the gridlock by spending more than $200 million on a bus rapid transit system (BRT), in the hope that commuters can be tempted out of their vehicles.
The hulking cars filling the streets are a symptom of the country's economic rise as it cashes in on its vast reserves of coal, copper and gold.
GDP growth hit a record 17 percent last year and is still steaming ahead at 11 percent now, despite the effects of a slowdown in China, its main trading partner.
Now Ulan Bator has more than 210,000 registered vehicles, almost quadruple the number in 2006.
Each morning Batsukh Gerelmaa bundles up against sub-zero temperatures for a rattletrap trolley bus ride from the city's southern fringe to its northwest districts that is only six kilometres long but takes up to an hour to complete in frustratingly start-stop traffic.
There is no way around the cold and uncomfortable journey, says Gerelmaa, an accountant for a local shoe distributor. Taxis costs too much and are just as slow.
"Sitting on that bus is so cold, I am practically frozen by the time I get to work. It shouldn't take so long because it's not that far, but the morning traffic is always bad," she said.
Many Ulan Bator denizens prefer to walk in the city centre, as taxis and buses get snarled in traffic. But for businessmen and women in freshly pressed suits or high heels, pedestrian progress is not always the best option.
"Walking is sometimes better than dealing with the traffic, but by the time I get to where I am going I am covered in dust," said Gerelmaa.
Road crews, construction sites and traffic on unpaved back roads all kick up fine Central Asian silt in the warm months from April to October.
But coal combustion is by far the biggest contributor to the smog as yurt-dwelling residents on the outskirts vigorously burn it to keep warm in winter temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit).
Nonetheless according to one study by the National University of Mongolia, motor vehicles contribute eight to 10 percent of particulate matter.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting the BRT project with a $217 million loan and Shane Rosenthal, its deputy country director, said: "As the economy grows and traffic congestion increases, there is great potential for an investment like this to have a substantial and positive impact on respiratory disease -- considered a leading cause of death in Mongolia."
Only BRT buses will be allowed to use the 14 kilometres of dedicated lanes running down the centre of the city's main north-south corridor, so they will not get jammed in the usual stream of cars, trucks and local buses.
Work on the first section is due to start in spring and later phases will see the system expand to 64.5 kilometres, says the ADB.
The state-of-the art vehicles will be a significant leap forward over current public transport options, a motley collection of battered Soviet-era buses and some newer South Korean models.
They will be heated in winter and should cut suburban residents' commuting times by as much as two thirds.
Rosenthal said the system would "easily" meet demand.
"In terms of operating costs, BRT is cheaper than rail systems and can be built in a small number of years. Constructing a rail system would take a decade or more" and cost at least 20 times as much, he added.
In the meantime Ulan Bator's mayor Bat-Uul Erdene has tried to control the traffic problem by restricting vehicles based on their licence plate number.
Since September, cars with plates ending in one and five have been banned on Mondays, two and six on Tuesdays, and so on.
Damdin Amgalanbaatar, a 62-year-old retired soldier who drives an informal taxi to make ends meet, says the mayor's scheme has helped, even if it forces him off the road one day per week.
"My plate ends in four so I cannot drive on Thursdays but for me it's OK. It forces me to take a day off so I have more time to spend with friends and relatives."
The payoff has been an easier workday, as lighter traffic means quicker transport times and more fares, he added.
"Before I could only get a few passengers because I spent most of the time sitting in traffic, not going anywhere."
Filmmakers capture iceberg the size of ‘Manhattan’ breaking off Greenland
By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, December 13, 2012 9:25 EST
In rare and stunning footage, filmmakers behind a newly released documentary captured the largest-ever iceberg calving yet seen off the Greenland ice shelf’s Ilulissat glacier.
The footage is just one part of a new documentary called “Chasing Ice,” by filmmaker James Balog, which released in the U.K. and across the U.S. on Friday, and an excerpt was published by The Guardian on Wednesday. The film documents in excruciating detail how the Greenland ice is melting due to climate change.
“Traveling with a team of young adventurers across the brutal Arctic, Balog risks his career and his well-being in pursuit of the biggest story facing humanity,” the film’s website explains. “As the debate polarizes America, and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Chasing Ice depicts a heroic photojournalist on a mission to deliver fragile hope to our carbon-powered planet.”
Satellite photography taken earlier this year showed that arctic sea ice shrank this summer to less than half what it was about four decades ago, reaching a record low in August 2012. The European Space Agency said earlier this year that the rate of loss is about 50 percent faster than previously forecast.
This video is from The Guardian, published Wednesday, December 12, 2012.http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2012/dec/12/chasing-ice-iceberg-greenland-video
16 December 2012 - 04H41
Fears of 'catastrophic damage' as cyclone nears Fiji
AFP - Fijian authorities scrambled to evacuate residents from low-lying areas Sunday as a monster cyclone threatened the Pacific nation with "catastrophic damage" after causing widespread devastation in Samoa.
At least four people were killed when Cyclone Evan slammed into Samoa and the toll was expected to rise as a search was launched for eight men still missing on three fishing boats.
Only one survivor has been found, the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which is overseeing the search, said.
After crossing Samoa, Evan intensified as it ploughed across the Pacific and forecasters said destructive winds could reach nearly 300 kilometres per hour (186 miles per hour) by the time it hits Fiji early Monday morning.
Squally thunderstorms were expected to flood low-lying areas while coastal villages were at risk of sea flooding, authorities said.
Tourists in luxury resorts on outlying islands were being ferried to the mainland, while Fiji's main airline, Air Pacific, said it had either cancelled or rescheduled its Monday flights.
Philip Duncan, head analyst with the WeatherWatch.co.nz meteorological service, said Fiji could expect to be walloped by the storm with the prospect of flash flooding and mudslides.
"Gusts may end up climbing to 280 kilometres per hour or greater around the centre of Evan," Duncan said.
"Some small, low-lying communities and resorts may suffer catastrophic damage and some small islands may be entirely submerged as the storm and storm surge roll by."
More than 200 evacuation centres have been opened and Information Ministry permanent secretary Sharon Smith-Johns said people at risk should move.
"People living in low lying areas should consider moving to higher grounds or evacuations centres," she said.
"By sunset tonight everyone should be ready with torches, batteries, candles, supplies and other necessities."
Fiji's military leader Voreqe Bainimarama has warned the storm is an "impending disaster" and offers of international aid have already been received.
Meanwhile, it could be some days before the full extent of the cyclone damage in Samoa is known because of the difficulty reaching outlying islands.
About 4,500 people have been forced to remain in emergency shelters after Evan destroyed houses and damaged electricity and fresh water supplies, Samoan officials said.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele also warned of possible food shortages next year because of the destruction of crops.
U.N. warns radioactive waste in unsecured sites in Tajikistan
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 14, 2012 16:46 EST
The United Nations warned Friday that nearly 55 million tonnes of radioactive waste from old Soviet-era uranian mines remain in unsecured sites in northern Tajikistan.
The former Soviet republic, where Stalin’s empire once mined uranium to create its first nuclear bomb, is still stuck with about 54.8 million tonnes of unsecured waste from the now mainly abandoned mines, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said.
The waste is “not treated, not confined, not secured,” agency spokesman Jean Rodriguez told reporters in Geneva.
In its second environmental performance report for the country, the UN agency lamented the lack of progress made to clean up the radioactive waste, which it said appeared to remain at the same level as in 1990.
“The state of radioactive waste storage is one of the main problems in Tajikistan,” it said, noting that a number of the unsecured sites are near Khujand, Tajikistan’s second largest city.
The largest single dump site contains 12 million tonnes of radioactive waste and is in the town of Taboshar, north of Khujand, the report showed.
The uranium used when the first Soviet nuclear bomb was successfully tested on August 29, 1949, was extracted in northern Tajikistan.
Uranium from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan was also processed for decades near Khujand, and 35,000 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste accumulated there, according to UNECE
The health risks associated with exposure to uranium are well-known. According to the US Department of Energy, sustained exposure can result in kidney damage and an increased risk of cancer.
UNECE praised the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for trying to set up projects to help the country manage its radioactive waste, but stressed that “due to the magnitude of the problem, it is hard to envisage that this issue will be solved in the foreseeable future.”
December 15, 2012
Brazil Expands Mines to Drive Future, but Cost Is a Treasured Link to Its Past
By SIMON ROMERO
CARAJÁS NATIONAL FOREST, Brazil — Archaeologists must climb tiers of orchid-encrusted rain forest, where jaguars roam and anacondas slither, to arrive at one of the Amazon’s most stunning sights: a series of caves and rock shelters guarding the secrets of human beings who lived here more than 8,000 years ago.
Almost anywhere else, these caves would be preserved as an invaluable source of knowledge into prehistoric human history. But not in this remote corner of the Amazon, where Vale, the Brazilian mining giant, is pushing forward with the expansion of one of the world’s largest iron-ore mining complexes, a project that will destroy dozens of the caves treasured by scholars.
The caves, and the spectacular mineral wealth in their midst, have presented Brazil with a dilemma. The iron ore from Carajás, exported largely to China where it is used to make steel, is a linchpin of Brazil’s ambitions of reviving a sluggish economy, yet archaeologists and other researchers contend that the emphasis on short-term financial gains imperils an unrivaled window into a nebulous past.
“This is a crucial moment to learn about the human history of the Amazon, and by extension the peopling of the Americas,” said Genival Crescêncio, a caver and historian in Pará State, which includes Carajás. “We should be preserving this unique place for science, but we are destroying it so the Chinese can open a few more car factories.”
As Brazil embarks on a frenzied effort to increase mining and improve infrastructure, work crews in the Amazon and beyond are unearthing one startling discovery after another. In Rio de Janeiro, archaeologists are examining a slave market and cemetery where thousands of Africans were buried. The discoveries have complicated the upgrade of the harbor and public transportation network ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games.
Brazilian courts can require companies to preserve archaeological sites, or at least transfer archaeological material to universities or museums where it can be studied, before work continues. In some cases, rulings have stalled huge projects, as Anglo American, the mining giant, discovered this year when prosecutors halted work on a large mining project in Minas Gerais State over concerns that an archaeologically significant cave could be damaged.
Scholars say that the caves of Carajás, which archaeologists began exploring in the 1980s, offer coveted insight into what may be the earliest known stages of human settlement in the world’s largest tropical rain forest, helping to piece together the puzzle of how the Americas came to be inhabited.
Pieces of ceramic vessels and tools made of amethyst and quartz are among the signs of human occupation from thousands of years ago. Such artifacts, along with the abundance of the caves and rock shelters themselves, make Carajás one of the Amazon’s most important places for the study of prehistoric humans.
The Amazon is already a hotbed of archaeological investigation, as researchers find evidence that far more people might have lived in the region than once considered possible. While the Amazon was once thought incapable of supporting large, sophisticated societies, researchers now contend that the region might have been home to thriving urban centers before the arrival of Columbus.
Before those cities were carved out of the forest, people lived in the Amazon’s caves. At Pedra Pintada, a cave that, like those in Carajás, is also in Pará, Anna C. Roosevelt, an American archaeologist, has shown that hunter-gatherers moved to the region 10,900 to 11,200 years ago, far earlier than once thought, about the same time people in North American were hunting mammoths.
Outside the Amazon, remarkable discoveries have been announced in recent months at other Brazilian sites. At Lapa do Santo, a rock shelter near the city of Belo Horizonte, archaeologists said this year that they had found the New World’s oldest known figurative petroglyph. The rock art, a drawing of a man with an oversize phallus, is thought to have been made 10,500 to 12,000 years ago.
To reach the caves of Carajás, researchers must drive hours along washboard roads cut through the jungle, before scaling escarpments with spectacular views of the Carajás Mountains, a range of canopied peaks rising out of the forest. Macaws fly overhead and bats swirl inside the earth cavities in which hunting tribes once found shelter.
Some of the caves, substantially cooler inside their openings than the surrounding forest, are large enough for more than a dozen people; others might have provided just enough space for two or three people.
Vale, then a state-owned company, began developing the iron ore deposits here after they were discovered in 1967 by a Brazilian geologist on assignment to find manganese for the U.S. Steel Corporation. Vale has since been privatized, but the government still controls big equity stakes.
Thanks largely to its Carajás complex, where thousands of workers labor 24 hours a day amid the clamor of digging machines, Vale accounts for 16 percent of Brazil’s total exports. As Vale grapples with a sharp decline in profits this year and delays at projects outside Brazil, Carajás is expected to become more important.
Vale has said it plans to create 30,000 jobs in the expansion of iron-ore mining at Carajás, a $20 billion project called Serra Sul, which is already luring thousands of migrants from around Brazil to this frenetic part of the Amazon.
To comply with regulations governing archaeological sites, Vale executives said, the company hired archaeologists and a team of speleologists, or cavers, to survey the caves, which are clustered around the open-pit Carajás mine. Vale also adapted its construction proposal to preserve some caves while planning to destroy dozens of others. While Vale acknowledged that at least 24 of the caves to be destroyed are of “high relevance,” it said it would also preserve caves in another part of Pará to compensate for their loss.
“For us there is just one procedure, and that is being transparent,” said Gleuza Josué, Vale’s environmental director. Describing the expansion of Carajás as a project of “paramount importance,” she said that Vale had rigorously complied with environmental and archaeological legislation in order to move forward with its plans.
Regulatory officials said they had won concessions from Vale but had not been able to stop the mine expansion. Despite archaeological concerns, the government granted the company a crucial environmental license in June, allowing the expansion to move forward.
The company still needs another installation license, expected to be granted in 2013, to go ahead with Serra Sul. Archaeologists and cavers familiar with Carajás seem resigned to the possibility that Vale will get its way.
Frederico Drumond Martins, a government biologist who oversees the Carajás National Forest, said he remained concerned that mine expansions here in the decades ahead could eventually destroy every last cave in Carajás.
Renato Kipnis, a respected archaeologist in São Paulo whom Vale hired to survey the caves of Carajás, said that Vale had prohibited him from discussing their archaeological significance, because of a confidentiality agreement Vale had required him to sign. Later, a Vale spokeswoman allowed Mr. Kipnis to be interviewed by e-mail, but only if the company was allowed to vet his replies.
In written replies screened by Vale, he marveled at the importance of the caves.
“The great challenge,” he said, “is finding middle ground between preservation and development.”
12/19/2012 06:56 PMMermaid Tears: Plastic Chokes Oceans and Trashes Beaches
By Karin Schulze
A new exhibition in Hamburg seeks to alert people to the dangers of the plastic in our daily lives, painting a stark picture of how it accumulates in the world's oceans. It reveals how plastic particles can enter into the food chain and return to us through our dinner plates.
The unsightly mess is a must see for anyone who wants to have a bad conscience for the right reason during the orgy of consumerism that is Christmas. A meter-high (3.2 feet) mountain of plastic scrap collected from the sea is piled up in the middle of the exhibition space. A red plastic boat surfs on top of the heap. Underneath, car tires, chairs, bleached flip-flops and rubber ducks with holes are clumped together -- the kinds of things that an increasing number of people are throwing away at an ever-quicker pace. It's a cemetery of mass consumption.
The heap of floating debris comes from the beaches of the Hawaiian island of Kahoolawe, Germany's Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn and the North Sea island of Sylt. The trash mountain is on display as part of an exhibition called "Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project" at Hamburg's Museum for Arts and Crafts (MKG) and it vividly illustrates one of the worst perils of plastic production. Every 10 to 15 seconds, an amount equal to that accumulated in the garbage heap at the museum finds its way out to the sea -- usually because it has been thrown away irresponsibly. And with 64-million tons of trash reaching the oceans each year, it is slowly turning into one big batch of plastic soup.
Already today there isn't a single cubic meter of sea water that is free of plastic particles. Entire gyres have taken shape in our oceans in which a plethora of plastic debris is constantly being washed around in a pattern, trapped by the currents. The biggest water-based plastic trash heap, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to be about the size of Central Europe. There, whirlpools 30 meters deep (nearly 100 feet) churn with massive multitudes of plastic sludge originating from the Pacific Rim countries.
Of course, plastic does hold many advantages as a material. It is inexpensive, light, pliable and variable. However, most plastic also has one decisive disadvantage: It doesn't decompose into biodegradable material. Instead it shrinks down through friction and light into ever smaller pieces. These pellets of plastic particle water pollution, euphemistically called "mermaid tears," arrive in some parts of the ocean in masses sometimes even greater than plankton. Some creatures mistake the particles for food, putting them directly into the food chain and possibly back on our plates. Mussels, for example, can store polyethylene particles in their tissues.
The exhibition first originated at the Zurich Design Museum (ZHDK) in Switzerland. Inspired by an article about the Pacific Trash Vortex in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, curators there sought to raise awareness of the topic and transform it into a learning experience. And it certainly makes sense for a museum focused on form to consider products not only through the lens of good design, but also the way in which they are disposed of or how they affect the environment. After a stop in Hamburg, it will continue on to museums in Finland, Denmark and France.
Ecologic Small Talk
Half of the show elucidates aspects of ocean ecology. Information boards and video clips bring the plastic soup to life. Visitors can see how animals mistake our civilization's waste for food with bottles that have teeth marks from sharks and sea turtles. Haunting photos show that sea birds like albatrosses slurp up plastic pieces that damage their insides or even cause them to starve to death because the plastic particles fill their stomachs.
The second half of the exhibit addresses plastic in daily life. The lunacy of take-out food packaging is shown through plastic salad boxes that have dressing in separate containers, as well as the egg and fork wrapped in film. What is less obvious is how plastic whirls through washing machines and bathrooms. Fleece clothing, for example, can leave behind up to 1,900 plastic fibers in every wash. And many cosmetic peeling creams contain polyethylene balls. Just like fleece fibers, they are so tiny that they end up passing through filters, landing in rivers and ultimately pouring into our oceans.
For those who are experts in the field, the exhibition doesn't offer much new. But taken together with the accompanying program of films, debates and tours of sewage treatment plants and recycling plants, it makes the plastic garbage heap easily understandable in a non dogmatic way for laypeople and school children. In Zürich, 400 school groups visited the exhibit. For many visitors, it is the first chance they have to delve so deeply into the issue. Who knows? Some may even go on to become environmental activists or sea researchers. At the very least, many visitors will at least be more inclined to pay closer attention to their consumption habits.
The rest of the lazy visitors? They can at the very least make environmental small talk at parties when others casually tap their plastic forks against their plastic cups. "Did you know," one might ask, for example, "that the mass of plastic that has been produced until today is enough to wrap the Entire earth in plastic wrap six times over?"
"Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project" runs until March 31, 2013, at the Museum of Arts and Crafts (MKG) in Hamburg, Germany. You can find additional information by visiting www.PlasticGarbageProject.org
Amazon spider discovered making decoys of itself to ward off predators
By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 15:13 EST
A unique spider in the Amazon rainforest was recently spotted using bits of leaves and dead insects to create larger-scale decoy spider shapes in its web, which it uses to ward off predators.
“I’ve seen a lot of weird things in the Amazon, but this one definitely stood out,” science educator and biologist Phil Torres, who made the amazing find, told Raw Story. “It’s not yet certain that this is a new species — it really looks like it, and it probably is — but that’ll be confirmed soon. As far as the behavior, it’s definitely not something anybody else has seen.”
His finding was first published in Rainforest Expeditions last week.
He described seeing the collection of debris in a web and thinking it was a dead spider, but upon closer inspection it appeared to be moving.
“Then we got closer and realized it wasn’t a spider at all,” he said. “We looked behind the decoy and lo and behold, we saw this little spider guy shaking [his web] back and forth trying to act all tough. We realized then that this is really something special.”
Torres added that the behavior is not an example of a spider having a type of self-recognition and creating a kind of spider art that resembles itself. Instead, he said the spider decoys represent a complex and interwoven series of patterns the spider has evolved in the specialized environment of the Amazon.
“There are some species that will make a little ball of debris in their web, then they curl up in a ball themselves and look similar to it,” he explained. “So, if you look at a web and you’re a wasp or another spider and you see 10 balls, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to get confused and attack the wrong one.”
This, however, is a further evolution of that behavior. “It’s a very well evolved system, an intricate design that’s built into them that they can construct,” Torres said. “It’s a matter of following simple patters that, over a long time, have really gotten quite specialized.”
Photo: Courtesy, Phil Torres.